Mr. Emeka Ugwu-Oju is the president of South-East/South-South Professionals, an organisation that is aimed at promoting economic development and integration of the eleven states in the two regions by leveraging on the natural endowment and human resources to build enduring infrastructure. In this interview granted on the sidelines of the recently concluded Delta State Economic and Investment Summit, Mr. Ugwu-Oju said the group has mapped out a 20-year development plan that would be private sector driven for the two regions. He also spoke on the way forward to the Niger Delta crisis.
How did South-East/South-South professionals come about?
It is an organisation that has been around since 2005. Many professionals in the South-East and South-South in their different corners felt that things are not right, and there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding here and there amongst our people. They felt that such was not good and so we went for a retreat in Calabar when Donald Duke was the governor of Cross River State. And after examining where we were, where we want to go, we decided that it was a win-win situation for the eleven states to come together and work to achieve desired goals. That was how the professionals came about. The first president came from Edo State, Emmanuel Ijewere who was a former president of ICAN. There are two deputy presidents, one for the South-East and one for the South-South. We have come a long way and we have done things in a professional way by making sure that we are always guided by reason and not by sentiments. That is why our flagship has ended up in the long term development plan for the South-East and South-South called Vision 2035.
Not much of this group has been heard…
… Maybe we need to do more but at least as the president, we have been having events and we have been visible both internationally and otherwise. We have been quite visible, we even had interactive session in Benin where we visited the late Oba, and paid courtesy visits to our members like the former GMD of NNPC, Gaius Obaseki, Chris Ogiemwonyi. Our first development forum was in Asaba, and was flagged-off by the then deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha.
You are in Delta for the 25th anniversary and you witnessed the first day of the economic and investment summit. What is your impression?
I think the right tone was set by the principal actors that featured. It started off with Vice President Osibanjo who gave the presidential speech. Then the keynote speaker, Chukwuma Charles Soludo blew the mind of most people who were present, the speech was a visionary speech that went beyond Delta. He was able to name the success factor and that is execution, action because some of the summits have been based more like a talk shop but this one with the tone that was set and some of the discussions that took place, you could see certain action points. Like Prof. Monye, he said he would be doing a letter to be signed by the governor and taking to the presidency with a view to making Asaba Airport an international airport. People have bought into the vision as laid by Soludo; that is making Delta a major hub because of its endowment for the two regions. The ports are there, the rivers are there, and most importantly, the human resource is there. It’s was interesting, and I want to say that the key goals have been achieved; the next thing now is the action point. Delta has more going for it in terms of natural resources than any other state in Nigeria, and that is why the Minister of Finance was point blank that if Delta fails, no state in Nigeria will succeed. But this is the time to get into action and deliver.
You are looking at a 20-year development plan to integrate the two regions, what are the critical infrastructure that you are looking at?
It is holistic, it is based on having what we call pillars. We have natural resource that is wasting, we now have to turn it into an asset. We have the oil and gas which we need to turn into a resource for development whereby instead of shipping the crude, we have what we call energy corridor plan whereby some critical industries would be in place whether it is refining, fertilizer or petrol-chemical or power that will then drive massive industrialization from the South-East/South-South. There is already one key aspect of it that we hope to flag-off before the end of the year, that is the Brass Fertilizer and Petrol-Chemical Complex which is private sector driven. It has taken quite some time to plan and it is now set to break the ground and when the construction starts, you have thousands of people on site which will help also to curb militancy by engaging young people. That is one pillar. The other one is agriculture, then you also have industry. The fourth pillar is trade, commerce and then tourism. The fifth which we added is ICT. Then we have the enablers where the infrastructure now comes in – one or two deep sea port for the two regions. We saw what deep sea port can do in the Delta corridor. The plan encompasses rail road network that will link up the 11 states which should be private sector driven. We don’t want to wait for government which is having challenges in payment of salaries. The plan envisages excellent road and rail network to compliment the sea. We know that infrastructure is a critical enabler but also we look at ICT infrastructure. The future is ICT driven, we will look at ways to have infrastructure for high speed internet.
Is there any institutional framework for this ambitious plan?
Right now we want to anchor on the BRACED commission for the South-South and then we have the South-East Economic Commission which is still work in progress. We believe in bringing the institutions together, we don’t have to reinvent the will, and then coordinate the action. We know that talk is cheap, hence we are in the process of developing a fund that will capitalize all this things we are talking about. Though it is private sector driven, we also expect the states to invest in it but we don’t have to wait for them, we want to show them what can be done. The fund will also help to attract counterpart funds from both internationally and otherwise. Let’s say the fund has a $1 billion, for instance, we should be able to leverage it to up to $10 billion but the key thing is that this thing would be delivered efficiently and will also earn money from the fund for further development. That was not in place before and that is what we are doing and hopefully before the end of the year, the mechanism for the fund and the name will be made public.
Private driven means people are investing and expecting returns, have you considered the areas where projects are to be sited, youth restiveness, militancy and what have you?
That is one of the enablers, security. Basically, it is what we are confronted and it is the most important enabler, security of lives and property in the 11 states. It is very much achievable. To address the issue of development, there is need for security. Yes, we know that there has been a lot of injustice which has created room for militancy which some criminal elements are exploiting. The inequality is addressed through political restructuring so that people can take care of their resources and pay relevant taxes to the Federal Government. But insecurity impacts on us negatively even though you might achieve some results, you think you are achieving something by blowing up pipelines. But the issue is if you damage the environment and somebody gives 100 per cent resource control and it turns out that you are able to sell the oil and earn $100 billion but you are required to remediate the environment with $150 billion. If it could be done without impacting on the environment, fantastic but now that it is impacting on the environment which could be worse even if you could achieve your goal, it gives room for another strategy. That message was not there before and we as professionals and the traditional rulers are supposed to carry the message to the people. We can’t get this development without security, what we want is development. A lot of people want development those who don’t want it are not up to one percent but they can be taken care of. With the engagement that the Minister of Petroleum is doing we are confident that something positive will be done, we want things to be handled with care.
The minister knows what best to do. We want a win-win situation not a situation of winning the war and losing the battle.
What do you think is the way forward in the Niger Delta issue?
As professionals, because we are also engaging the Federal Government and other stakeholders, it boils down to equity and justice, in other words, if I have my resource, I would want to have a say in how it is handled. But it is something that a lot of injustice and a lot of harm has been done in the past; it is not something that will happen overnight. We need to get all these stakeholders and make them to understand that there is short, medium and long term agenda for the solution. Let all the parties, those who benefitted much more in the past, and those who didn’t benefit can now build a road map that will enable equity and justice come to play but while doing that, you take care of the immediate.
The people concerned actually welcome this palliative measure over time. Do you think they will be patient with government to address the critical issues holistically?
As professionals, we made it clear that the era of government development is over, government can’t develop you. That is also a message for us to develop ourselves, we don’t want government to tie our hands whether at the state or at the federal level. Knowing that development is in your hands, you don’t have to wait for government, you are doing it yourself but that political environment is not there yet. However, that is the road map for meaningful resolution. While getting to the meaningful resolution, what you might call palliative should be in place, it should not be ignored. What is going to be different is that you don’t see the palliative as the end. It is going to be a temporary measure to cushion the effect prior to when fruits of actual development begin to manifest because development is not a one day thing; it may extend to up to four, five years, and it will take some time to start getting the dividends. The palliative which were earlier seen as the solutions are not sustainable and does not engender development. The palliative of paying allowance to militants should be a secondary matter for the key issue of massive development to be in place.
Militants are also stakeholders because they will help keep the criminal elements; there are some criminal elements that have taken advantage of militancy, that is also a problem. But when you provide the enabling environment that discourages militancy, the criminal elements will be exposed because they won’t be able to operate without the genuine agitators.