Deputy president of the Senate, Senator OvieOmo-Agege, in this interview with journalists, speaks on why he wants to be the next governor of Delta State under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the public perception of the Buhari administration, among other issues. KUNLE ODEREMI brings some excerpts:
What is your assessment of the mood in the state ahead of the March 11, governorship election and what’s the level of acceptance of your campaign messages?
When Delta was created, Asaba was meant to be the administrative capital, while Warri is to serve as economic hub of the state. Most of us grew up in this town but the Warri we grew up in is far better than the Warri we have today. Yes, insecurity is a national challenge, but in addition to insecurity, we also have a case of extortion by non-government actors.
When you have companies that are interested in doing business here but are being told that unless they pay XYZ amount of money, not into government coffers, but into accounts of some powerful individuals so to say, of course, you will expect such companies to look elsewhere where the environment is more conducive. Civil servants, who served the state in various capacities and have a clear knowledge that deductions were made from their salaries over the years, so that their pensions and gratuities would be paid as and when due by the time they retire, have not been paid anything in the last nine to 10 years.
Some of them have died; some are dying. And, why they are even so angry with the present administration in the state is that they are aware that so much money has come into the state. How much will it take to settle these pensions and gratuities?
We are not a poor state, considering all of these receipts. We have students in the state-owned institutions, whose tuition and other fees have risen. When Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan left office, tuition and other fees paid by students of the state-owned university was about N45,000, but today, it has shot up to N275,000.
I was in Imo State not too long ago, where my friend, Governor Hope Uzodimma, constructed a major road and dualised it with street light. He invited the President to come and commission it, and I recall that the governor in his remarks said that the road is a federal road but it is the people of Imo State, who ply that road. Because the Federal Government is overstretched and has its own challenges, you will agree with me that what most governors do is to use state resources to rehabilitate federal roads and seek reimbursement and the Muhammadu Buhari administration has never hesitated to approve these referrals.
Against the background of the picture you painted; how has it been easy for the PDP to maintain grip on Delta State since 1999?
Before now, we’ve never really had a strong opposition but I have everything that it takes to challenge the PDP government in the state. So, this is the first time that PDP would be contesting election the state. Yes, they have more resources because they control the treasury but we are not poor by any means. We have enough resources to give them a run for their money. On another hand, I will say that I was in the PDP years back and I know the tricks they play on others and they cannot play them on me. They know that I am determined. If I set my mind on something, you really have to beat me at it. And with the calibre of the candidate they’ve thrown at me, I think it is a blessing from God.
There are claims of borrowings by the state government. What is your take on that, and are there projects to justify these loans?
We are tired of these borrowings. Today, it is N150 billion; the next day it is N50 billion; another day it is N100 billion. We did some orchestration in the court although we knew that we would be asked to prove the issue of locus and the damages it would cause us if the state takes such loans. Yes, I agree that we lost in court, but on the recent one they wanted to take, we issued a caveat because we couldn’t take it anymore. But of course there was an issue, whether as the Senate Deputy President and APC governorship candidate, I have the legal authority to issue a caveat.
Some people would be wondering why you are leaving your comfort zone because it would have been easier for you to return to the Senate than the governorship. What gives you the confidence that you will win the election?
This is Delta State and there is this misconception out there that it is a PDP State. But it is not really a PDP state as such. Like I said, the reason PDP has been getting away with the co-called victories in previous governorship elections is that it has not really been confronted by a coordinated and powerful opposition. They have never faced Omo-Agege in a governorship election; they will face me now as a member of not just a party but a national party. It may also interest you to know that I’ve beaten them twice here in Delta Central in senatorial elections. I beat them in 2015. In 2019, I shut them down and I made sure that they were the ones who went to court. So, I know how to beat them, and like I said, I’ve beaten them twice and there is no reason I can’t beat them a third time.
What would you do differently if you become the next governor of Delta State?
I am not the first senator from the state although you will make the argument that I am the first Deputy Senate President from the state. But I am the first senator from the state, who has touched everyone and every community in my senatorial district. In the past, senators celebrated and commissioned between three to five projects but I can’t even count the projects I’ve done. I set out to light-up the entire communities in the senatorial district and you can verify that. To further boost power supply, we’ve provided transformers everywhere. In addition to that, even though not our obligation, we are reconstructing and renovating schools and building new classroom blocks. We are also doing drainages, shore protection and providing potable water. Of course, there is the Federal Polytechnic Orogun, which I attracted to my senatorial district and was funded in one budget circle. Every infrastructure required in that institution is ready and it is ready for take-off. I have also attracted the Defence Space School and that was during my first term. I also fought for the passage of the bill for the creation Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun. Like you know, before that, there was no legal framework to back up the university and what that means is that a government can wake up one day and say you can’t have both the Petroleum Training Institute and Federal University of Petroleum Resources in one town. So, my people have seen what I’ve done as a senator and they are saying: ‘If he could do all these as a senator, he will do more if given the opportunity to serve as a governor.’ I will tell you that if I am to commission the projects I’ve done, it will take more than 300 hundred days to do that and that would mean going to every community. I resolved to serve my people as a senator and I will tell you that I’ve done that very well and my people are happy with me. In the cause of our interactions, I made a case for the revamping of the Warri, Koko and Sapele ports. We know what the challenge of the Warri Port is; it is the dredging of the Escravos bar. It will cost a lot of money but it is a battle we have been fighting over the years. He has giving us his commitment because he is also a stakeholder in the state. As you know, his wife is from Delta.
We are also talking to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on how to bury the pipelines hovering on top of the river deep onshore. Once that is done, we will start receiving large vessels in the Warri Port and that will create jobs for our youths. On road infrastructure, I intend to emulate my friend, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State by bringing Julius Berger to Delta and insist on local content, when it comes to employment. So, I will fix the federal roads and seek reimbursement from the Federal Government.
Are you not worried that what some people have described as the dismal performance of the APC-led Federal Government might affect your chances in the governorship election?
Not at all because this election is for the want of expression. Here in Delta, I am the face of APC, so for you to condemn the party in the state, you have to condemn me. But there is no way anyone can do that because I have done well and our people have seen what I have been able to do. Like said earlier, I have more projects, of course Federal Government funded projects, here in Delta Central than the state governor has in the district. So, why will the people of Delta Central not vote for me because APC may have been perceived not to have done well in one way or the other?