Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is the Governor of Delta State. During his quarterly interaction with journalists in Asaba, he responded to questions on diverse issues on the state of the nation, unending borrowing to finance lopsided budgets by the Federal Government, the furore over the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC board and his achievements. DOMINIC ADEWOLE was there
What is your take on the proposed subsidy removal and increase in pump price of petroleum products in 2022 and what is the Nigerian Governors’ Forum saying about this?
The governors neither asked for the petroleum subsidy, nor are they in charge of the petroleum subsidy. I do not think there is a direct stand from the governors at the moment. It is a decision that has to be taken by the Federal Government. It is a decision that has to flow within the laws of the land. To me, it is a decision that has to be made based on the economic situation in the country.
The truth is that there is a lot of complexity in the economy of this nation as of today. The situation is not the best for our nation, Nigeria. Unfortunately, many times we do not sit back to examine the federal budget. If you examine the federal budget and you look into the issues of our borrowings as a nation, every Nigerian should begin to get very worried.
The budget that was presented to the National Assembly was a little over N16 trillion. Of that N16 trillion, N5 trillion is for capital expenditure while N6.26 trillion is supposed to be borrowed. If we are borrowing over N6 trillion as a nation and spending N5 trillion on capital, the implication is that without borrowing, we cannot execute a single capital project.
The worse of it is that out of the N6.26 trillion being borrrowed, if only N5 trillion is going to capital expenditure, it means over N1 trillion is going into recurrent expenditure, that is enough to put fears in us as a nation. There is a problem, the economy is not in the best of state, so the Federal Government has to take decisions as to what economic plan they have on the table and on what they ought to do for us as a country.
Just for us to understand that we are not a rich nation, we are a poor nation, I do not know about tomorrow but as at today, from all the indices, we are not a rich nation. We are just struggling through and there are challenges.
As the Governor of Delta State, what have you to say on the matters relating to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)?
What are the South-South and Niger Delta Governors doing about the non-constitution of the board of the commission?
I do not know if I am the appropriate person to answer this. We have made our position clear as South-South Governors and also the nine states of the Niger Delta region that are oil producing at the moment. We have spoken about how we feel.
Where we are at the moment is very unfortunate. It ought not to be so because we have not had a proper board for over two years now.
That is not right. Whatever situation we are operating now is unknown to the laws of this country but the more thing is that states are now deprived of the opportunity of having their representatives at the board.
With the board, beyond the Managing Director and the Executive Directors, we have state representatives who are able to understand that the budget of the NDDC is run in the way it ought to run, with what is due to each state getting to each state.
That has not been the situation for quite some time and that is why we have always complained and our fears have been made known. We were told by the Presidency that as soon as the forensic report was submitted, that the board itself would be constituted but unfortunately the board has been constituted running into a few months and we are still awaiting the constitution of the board.
I think that no matter what is going on, there is a law and there is a need for the Federal Government to do what is right because the provisions of the law ensures that there is equity and some level of integrity to ensure no state is shortchanged.
At the moment, we do not have any information as to what is going on or when the board will be constituted but we will continue to make our voices heard. We hope Mr. President will soon constitute the board because he is the only person that can constitute the board of the NDDC.
The Omicron virus, the new variant, is here again. What measures is the state government taking to provide adequate health security of residents in the state?
The same plans, which are public health measures. People should learn to wear their masks. It is important to do that, we need to continue to encourage people to put on their mask and sanitize their hands which is very key. We need to encourage people to take the vaccines as they are.
At the moment, there is no shortage of vaccines, it is just that Deltans and Nigerians are not accessing the vaccination enough. It is safe, many people have taken it and it is safe because the adverse effect after vaccination is very minimal and limited.
There has been no single case of death in Nigeria following vaccination. It is safe enough and we should take it.
It is just a new variant that has been announced but there is a panicky approach to the whole thing because in South Africa where it was detected, since they made the announcement, in some part of the world, everyone is running to shut them down.
I do not think that this the best way to approach this because once you begin to have this level of segregation because someone has announced a new variant, the implication is that some countries will not speak up when they detect a new variant.
This becomes more difficult to handle. I think that while there is a need for caution, I do not think that is a right part to follow. We must continue to ensure many more people get vaccinated because this new variant may also be resistant to vaccines.
At least thus far when they have postulations here and there, we have not had situations of strong resistance to the vaccines that we have at the moment. I want to encourage Nigerians and Deltans on the need to get vaccinated. There are so many vaccination sites.
There is no shortage of the Astrazeneca or the Modena vaccine at the moment and we are still expecting quite a lot of vaccines. There is no cause for alarm, vaccines are not scarce at all, they are there, it is just that people are not accessing it enough.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo hailed one of your star projects, the newly constructed Prof. Chike Edozien Secretariat, what is the cost implication and was it solely built by the state government?
I think we completed the structure of the new secretariat which was built by North China Company with a little over N17 billion, then the equipping of the secretariat was done by Lifemate Furniture which came in at a cost of N1.7 billion and we also had some other services like the provision of computers, network which is below N800 million. I think on a fair part, that is the major thing that we have.
As to the financing, the secretariat was built with government funding, whether you are borrowing or spending directly from your bank proceeds, it is still a state government funding. It is not something we could fund from the beginning so we put in some seed money and then we issued a document to be paid over a few years.
That payment started in the year 2017 and the construction work started in November 2017 but the good news is that the payment is structured to be paid within our tenure.
We are not passing any debt to the new administration because the payment would be completed in 2022. We have already made payments for four years, we just have one year to go.