The effort being made all over the world by governments and multinational corporations to end the dominance of oil as the main source of energy is a wake-up call to states whose economies largely depend on oil. While countries, like Nigeria, have done little to prepare for the end of the oil era, one of its states, Delta, has given full expression to what a proactive response should be. Since the inception of his administration in May 2007, the state governor, Dr Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, has made it a policy to develop and sustain the state’s economy beyond oil.
As the global search for shale gas and other forms of energy intensifies, global demand for crude, as we know it, keeps dropping. The effects on our economies–at macro and micro levels—are expected to be negative. It is on this premise that Uduaghan’s drive to grow Delta state’s economy, in a way that there will be minimal disruption to its revenue sources when oil finishes or loses its global relevance, can be fully appreciated.
Bearing these in mind, the transformation agenda he articulated focuses on getting the most from oil now as the state transforms to a post-oil era which must come. The second leg of the agenda is to develop other sources of revenue and diversify the state’s economy either by creating favourable options or by optimising available ones.
Critics who saw the policy as mere sloganeering, had a field day when it was unfolded. To them it was inconceivable turning the state, one of the highest oil producers in Nigeria, away from relying on one natural resource they had in abundance. The mere talk that the natural resource was finite, with the period approaching when the wells would dry up, was like idle talk. Today, thanks to Uduaghan’s clear vision and the tenacity that propelled it, the idea is increasingly catching on across the Niger Delta and at the national level.
As a policy, ‘Delta beyond Oil’ was conceived out of the need to save the state from over dependence on oil money, with the main objective of ensuring that the state’s economy was resuscitated and a conducive environment put in place for investments to thrive. This will naturally provide employment for the state’s teeming population, mainly in the areas of agriculture, cultural tourism and solid minerals. Nearly seven years down the road, the question must be asked: how has the transformation fared, so far?
Since the vision ‘Delta beyond Oil’ is conceived as a 50-year policy, it will be unrealistic to expect much impact from it now, but it will suffice to say that the indices on the ground are already pointing upwards. Many, who have visited or evaluated the economic components that will drive the emerging economy of Delta state, will attest to the fact that the scenario holds much promise. The governor, who has pursued the agenda with great zeal, has not only been receiving accolades for the vision, the policy has, also, in itself started yielding expected outcomes.
In building a Delta that will prosper beyond oil, Uduaghan reckoned with the need for certain critical infrastructure-both human and physical-that will support diversification of the economy. Among the physical infrastructure he embarked upon that are in different stages of realisation are the Oghareki power plant, the Asaba International Airport, upgrade of Osubi Airport to international standards and the establishment of industrial clusters like the Koko Industrial Park, the Warri Industrial and Business Park as well as the Asaba ICT Park. His administration has also substantially harnessed the people’s entrepreneurial skills through the highly successful Micro Credit Scheme. Not only has this scheme nurtured small and medium enterprises with over 100,000 beneficiaries, it has also won for Uduaghan’s government, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) awards, three times consecutively.
Delta’s difficult terrain has not deterred the administration in its pursuit of building physical infrastructure. With a land area of 18,050 square kilometres, substantial portions of which are riverine, marshy and underdeveloped, the Delta landscape is, indeed, challenging, but not impossible with enormous investment in money, energy and time. The administration’s determination to change the landscape of the riverine and oil producing areas is, perhaps, the singular reason the State has kept faith in heavily funding the development agency for that purpose-the Delta State Oil Mineral Development Commission (DESOPADEC) with a whopping 50 per cent of the 13 per cent derivation it receives from the federal government. It may yet be the only state with this level of commitment.
Its investment in massive infrastructure renewal has resulted in the dualisation of major roads that include the 148 km Asaba-Ughelli road, the 33 km Ugbenu-Koko road, the Effurun-Osubi-Eku road, the 7.2 km Ughelli Artery, the PTI/Jakpa road and the Old Lagos/Asaba road, among others. These have helped to aid movement of personnel and goods as well as create major network grids to link all the nooks and crannies of the State. New public schools and health-care facilities are being constructed or upgraded, but equally significantly is the progress of Oghara Teaching Hospital as a centre of excellence. So far, about eighteen thousand classrooms, according to credible reports, have been built, renovated or upgraded while the Oghara Teaching Hospital recently accomplished the feat of a first kidney transplant.
To fully harness the economic potentials of the state, agriculture and agro-allied industries have received more than a passing attention, while the state has enhanced rural industrialisation and revived manufacturing. It has, as learnt, also partnered big private investors in co-funding projects such as the multi-billion Naira OFN/Delta Farms and the N40 billion Delta Leisure Park, which on completion will make Delta state the tourist destination of choice.
However, easily the most profound outcome from the policy is the redirection of the youth who are growing up in expectation of an easy life from oil. Though oil has brought so much wealth to the multinational oil companies and the Nigerian State whose economy functions on 85% earnings from crude sales, it has over time become like nemesis for many Niger Deltans who are fixated on the low-hanging fruits: oil money. This attitude is gradually changing as the policy has succeeded in orientating them towards hard work.
Surely, the vision to build a Delta beyond oil is a daunting one, but it has become imperative considering the imminent decline in relevance of crude oil due to exhaustion. From all these, the picture of Delta State that is emerging is one that gives hope for the future and belief in the drive towards a new economy. Among Deltans, there is a near unanimity of opinions on what the priorities should be. Hopefully, by the time Uduaghan completes his present tour of duty, his vision and abiding concern for the future would have firmly taken root in reshaping Delta’s economy.
• Mr Ojeifo, journalist and publisher, sent this piece from Abuja via [email protected]