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Delta beyond oil, a practical lesson

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There have been calls for the diversification of the nation’s economic resources for enhanced revenue generation. Those who make such calls stress the need for the Federal Government to reduce its dependence on oil and gas and broaden its economic base by diversifying to other sources of revenue. The calls became more strident with increasing discovery of oil by numerous countries in the world, including some African nations. It became worrisome with the falling demand for Nigeria’s oil by its major buyer, the United States of America, which has also recently discovered shale oil.

Heeding this call for more than six years now is Delta State government that has deliberately invested in various sectors that would expand its economy by looking beyond oil.

To this effect, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan enunciated an enduring vision, ‘Delta Beyond Oil’, which has become a template not just for the rest of the country but beyond, since oil is a finite resource.

Interestingly, this initiative, which has won the governor local and global acclaim, entails the development of a strong infrastructural base, viz: modern roads, efficient water transportation, efficient healthcare system, and a world class educational system. Other areas of emphasis in weaning Delta State from dependence on oil are agriculture, ICT, developing other natural resources, including solid minerals, developing the huge manpower base, and creating a clement environment for investment and private enterprise to thrive.

To address the infrastructure deficit in the state, Governor Uduaghan has undertaken the construction/reconstruction, rehabilitation and maintenance of a number of trunk roads, rural access roads and township roads throughout the state, including the dualisation of a number of highways and township roads.

The government embarked on Asaba Urban Renewal, involving itself in projects covering over 40 roads targeted at improving traffic flow in the city as well as extending the general road network to more areas of the capital city.

The government also embarked on dualisation of Ugbenu-Koko Road; Trans Warri/Ode-ltsekiri Roads and Bridges; dualisation of Ughelli-Asaba Road; dualisation of Old Lagos/Asaba Road, Agbor; Sapele/Abigborodo/Arowon Road; Umeh Road; dualisation of Refinery Road and the link to Ekpan intersection in Ekpan town; dualisation of Ughelli arterial road; Olomu Bridge and Access Road; Udu/NEPA Road; dualisation of Effurun-Osubi-Eku Road; lssele-Uku/Onicha-Uku/Ugbodu/Okwunzu/Obomkpa/ldumu-Ogo/lssele-Uku Road; Dualisation of PTl/Jakpa/Ekpan Road; Koko/Uba-Egbelemeji Road; Ekiugbo-lyede/Olomoro Road, and many others.

According to Solomon Funkekeme, Delta State commissioner for works, these roads and bridges will bring about rapid transformation on the entire areas as well as reduce travel time for travellers and farmers taking their agricultural produce to the markets in the urban centres.

There are two airports in Delta State. The Osubi airstrip with a 1.8km runway built by Shell, and operated in partnership with other oil companies, operates commercial flights to Lagos and Abuja. The Asaba International Airport, which is fully owned by the Delta State government, commenced commercial flights in July 2011. At present, two carriers operate at the airport, Overland and Arik airlines, with flights to Lagos and Abuja. In a bid to upgrade the Osubi airstrip to an airport, the state government has commenced the construction of a second runway of 4.2km to accommodate bigger aircrafts. The Asaba International Airport in addition to serving Delta State, serves the neighbouring South Eastern states. With the location of the two airports in the state, air transportation is within easy access to Deltans. Facilities at the airports, according to the government, will continue to be upgraded to meet international standards.

In pursuance of the policy for the provision of cheap and affordable transportation for Deltans, the state government in 2008 launched the state urban taxi scheme with 170 taxis and 100 Toyota Hiace buses.

In continuation of the programme, the state government between 2009 and 2013 fiscal years purchased additional 674 buses, allocating some to school shuttle bus scheme, some to Delta Line Transport Services, Agofure Motor Limited, NURTW workers, labour and others. Generally, the fleet of buses has actually done well in ameliorating the sufferings of Deltans who have been enjoying the services of the mass transit buses in their various areas.

In order to realise the vision for water transport which involves transforming Delta State to a state with developed water transport system that is safe, secure, effective, efficient, and environmentally sustainable for moving people and goods across the waterways, the government embarked on riverine infrastructure projects, building 31 concrete landing jetties and two waiting sheds.

The state government has also completed the construction of an ultra-modern jetty and waiting shed model at Koko in Warri North L.G.A., including provision of boats for riverine mass transit programme.

“These jetties are to facilitate loading and off loading of freight as well as to be used as parks for passengers”, commissioner, directorate of transport, Benson Rolland Igbakpa, said.

The Delta State government also approved the procurement of 60 units of motorised fishing boats for fishermen. The commissioner said the gesture was to improve the fishing techniques of fish farmers as well as enhance the production of fish for consumption thereby contributing to the food security measures of the state.

In a bid to fully enhance the academic and professional potentials of the riverine dwellers in line with the human capital development goal of the administration, the state government established the School of Marine Technology, Burutu (SMT) to train middle level manpower for the oil and gas industries.

Delta State has the highest number of ports in the country and also the longest coastline. The ports are located at Warri, Koko, Sapele and Burutu. Consequently, the government is currently partnering with the NPA, Federal Government and other stakeholders at providing the necessary infrastructure at these ports and increasing the draught of the Benin River and Escravos bar through dredging to allow all categories of vessels use the ports.

One of the major accomplishments of the government in the health sector is the successful kidney transplant at the Delta State University Teaching Hospital (DELSUTH), Oghara, on Monday, January 13, 2014.

According to Chike Ogeah, commissioner for information, with this feat, the stage is now set for the state to become Nigeria’s medical tourism destination. The kidney transplant, the first of its kind in the country, followed the successful knee cap and hip replacement surgeries undertaken in the hospital last year.

Ogeah said the success of the surgery signals the advent of more complex operations to be undertaken at the hospital that will ultimately make DELSUTH a centre for medical excellence and tourism in Nigeria.

He said the pioneering surgeries at the hospital demonstrate Uduaghan’s visionary leadership and unique approach to healthcare in the country, noting that Delta remains the only state with a comprehensive healthcare programme.

“Delta State is the only place where pregnant women enjoy comprehensive free healthcare coverage and free delivery, including free caesarean section. In addition to that, every new born baby enjoys free medical care until five years of age. This is unprecedented and largely explains why Delta State by far has the lowest maternal death rate”, Ogeah said.

“Uduaghan has set the pace whereby wealthy Nigerians will no longer have cause to travel abroad for even complex medical situations. Rather, we are at the point where people from other countries will be coming to Delta State in search of specialist medical care. That is what medical tourism is all about and DELSUTH is leading the way”, the commissioner said.

According to him, the DELSUTH project involves not just the acquisition and installation of world class medical facilities but in the development of well trained manpower to undertake surgeries hitherto obtainable only in developed countries.

Two years ago, the Delta State government started subsidising dialysis of kidney patients in DELSUTH and progressively brought the cost down from N20,000 to N5,000 applicable only to patients of Delta State origin.

The government has also embarked on infrastructural development in the health sector. The Delta State University Teaching Hospital is a major project of the government. The present administration is largely responsible for its completion to the point of use, including accreditation from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, the Postgraduate Medical College and other professional bodies.

The state government embarked on a lot of capital projects involving construction, rehabilitation/renovation, equipping and re-equipping of the hospitals and health centres in the state as well as the health training institutions.

From 2007 – 2011, a total of 390 projects were awarded to various contractors. These projects cut across the three senatorial districts and affect the three tiers of health institutions: primary, secondary and tertiary health institutions.

The Delta State government identified employment generation and support for small scale entrepreneurship. According to Ogeah, tremendous progress has been made in this critical area.

He said Governor Uduaghan created the Directorate of Poverty Alleviation, a special purpose vehicle to drive small and micro-credit scheme in collaboration with the Bank of Industry under an arrangement that shielded it from the vagaries of officialdom.

“At the last count, over 100,000 people, mainly women and the younger generation have benefited from the scheme. In fact, some products, especially processed foods, are now being exported worldwide”, Ogeah said.

Following this vision, Uduaghan has recently been conferred with the Man of the Year 2013 by four newspapers, including The Sun, Vanguard, Leadership and Nigerian Pilot. From Dublin, Republic of Ireland came also the International Outstanding Leadership Award by Metro Eireann, the country’s multi-cultural newspaper.

By: DON OKERE