Outgoing Commissioner for Environment, Frank Omare, in this interview with AMOS IGBEBE, reveals what the ministry has achieved over the years. Besides the ministry, he says Uduaghan’s greatest achievement for Deltans is peace and stability in the state.But he said if he is giving another opportunity in the incoming government of Okowa, he will do worse than what he did in this outgoing government.
From your ministry’s end, give a brief of Uduaghan’s achievements in these eight years.
I was appointed by the Governor as Commissioner for Environment, four years ago. I want to first thank God and the Governor who made me a part of his cabinet. For me, it is obvious that this government has done so much in the Ministry of Environment; in the area of shoreline protection, beautification, waste management, illegal mining, oil spillage, removal of illegal structures, opening of water channels, stopping indiscriminate dumping of refuse, forestry and ecosystem, this government has done much. It has been a tough time and I salute the courage of the governor who gave me this kind of enormous assignment. It shows that he believed in my capability.
It’s not about Frank Omare, it’s about the ministry as an institution. We have been able to open up the water channels in major cities; Ughelli, Oleh, Sapele, Uvwie and Udu. We have had to go about arresting people who choose to change the face of the beautiful roads by dumping wastes on the roads. Before they used to dump the waste during the day, but when the arrests started, they started coming out at night. And for that we have employed about 1,200 environmental marshals who are working 24 hours. We cannot do this alone, so we are partnering with the Nigerian police, and other enforcement bodies. It is based on this that the government approved the release of enforcement vehicles for us.
On the area of illegal structures, we have shown that everyone is expected to live within the dictates of the law, and no one is above the law. Even when the state government built a school across a natural water channel in Sapele, we had the courage to bring it down so that we can really establish the fact that nobody is above the law. A lot of people were offended. A lot of people were hurt, but government is government and we have to do what is right. I know that what is right is to do what the law says. So we have been able to do all that, as a people, as a ministry and as a government. We believe that this is the way to go because I can’t fold my hands and see things go bad. When there is a little drop of rain, everybody cries. Many people, including some educated and highly placed people just wake up and build their houses across natural waterways and channels. So it’s a huge and tasking duty, but we had to do what we think is right as a government.
Also, the government has approved a shoreline protection in Warri metropolis, from Cemetery road to stadium, going through the Market, to discharge at the main Warri River. The contractor has been mobilized and is getting ready to go to site. The leader of the incoming government is someone who is learned and has the grassroots experience; he can render to each community what they need and at the point in time that they need it. I know that the present government has done so much over the years, and I know the incoming government will toe the same line. My happiness is that the incoming government is one with experience. The continuity of the projects is something I’m not scared of.
We have been having a tough time with the sand dredging aspect, especially in the Ughelli, Patani, Orerokpe and part of Sapele area. Everybody just buys a dredger, and without conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), they just go ahead and start dredging sand from anywhere. You know what this means, it poses serious danger to the environment. Because of this, the entire Ughelli is being threatened because of the massive dredging. We have made all attempts to stop it, and I know that the incoming government will continue from where we have gotten to, so that people can appreciate the fact that our ecosystem must be protected.
We have strengthened the department of ecology to see that a lot of visitation and site assessment is being done, so that they can go to the site of the spillages, as well as dredging sites across the state. Companies that are involved in the spillage and dredging will be duly sanctioned. On the drainage systems, you can see what we are doing from part of Okpanam Road to Inter-Bau roundabout, down to the Anwai river. As this is going on, we are doing similar things in Ughelli, Warri and Effurun. So we are focusing on the flood-prone areas.
Above all, as a state government that is outgoing, we have done very well, not only in the aspect of environment, but in every other aspect as well. I could go on and on without growing weary. In the area of climate change, people don’t believe that climate change is real. But it is getting clearer by the day. When it’s rainy season, we witness excessive rain, and then when it is dry season, the intensity of the sun is unimaginable. The state government has so far, keyed into the policies of the federal government as it affects climate change. We have just established a department of climate change in the Ministry of Environment. The department has kick-started with a Director, and other functional officers manning it. We believe that the incoming government will build on the foundation that we are laying now. Thank God, it’s a PDP government so I don’t have any fear. Delta state is like a Bible in the hands of Senator Okowa, he knows what to do and he is capable of delivering to the people.
As someone who has served the government in so many capacities, I am proud of my Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, as well as the incoming governor. He is someone that can give Delta state what it needs at this point in time. It’s sometimes funny that people do not appreciate what the incoming governor has done; he has massively transformed Delta state. They will come to appreciate it after sometime.
Above all, I want to say to all those whom we might have offended by removing their illegal structures, caravans, restricting of street trading, that I do not regret what I have done. If I am given the same opportunity, I will do the same and more, because you cannot see a road and decide that you want to start selling there instead of using the markets built by the local government for that very purpose. I am neither a protector nor promoter of illegality, and I believe what needs to be done should be done. A lot of people were offended by what we did. A lot of people were hurt. They were raining all sorts of abuses, threats, curses on me and the governor, but that was the right thing to be done. If it was a bad job, I should have resigned, but I applied for and accepted it. That is my mandate, and I have done it completely and transparently. I didn’t do it to witch-hunt anybody. One of the Governor’s fence in Warri was pulled down and even my own was pulled down.
Nigerians respect laws, especially when they know that the leader is one who respects the law as well. I want to thank the Governor for giving me the opportunity to serve, and even my fellow cabinet members. All those who supported me, all those who even insulted me, those who don’t like my face, I want to thank them all as well. It is said that the falling away of the yellow leaf will bring about the green one. It is my turn today, it could be anybody else tomorrow. There were a lot of Commissioners of Environment before I came in, and all of them have contributed so much to protect our environment.
The incoming government of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is one I am proud of, because it is a PDP government. I will contribute my own quota to ensure the success of the incoming government, whether I am asked to or not. We must change our attitude. As a big man or an educated woman, where do you dump your waste? Where do you build your houses? Do you caution other people when you see them dumping waste into the drainage, or building on natural waterways? Do you give out your land for them to use as a sand dredging point, and destroy our ecosystem? Do you protect your environment? Do you plant flowers and beautify your environment? You need to ask yourself these questions and change your attitude. It is all about individuals. Some rich and educated people can destroy the environment and some uneducated and poor ones can also do same. In all, I’m very happy to be a part of the government of Dr. Uduaghan. I appreciate the governor for the assignment given to me. If I am given this same assignment again, I will do worse, and do it very well.
Do you think Uduaghan has been fair to all Deltans?
How can Uduaghan be fair to all Deltans? He is an individual. If he is fair to all Deltans, then he is not worthy to be Governor. I just told you that we demolished illegal structures. Children, widows and other Deltans were crying. Do you think those persons will say that Uduaghan has been fair to all Deltans? Those who buy caravans with N280,000, get a site to put it and begin to pay money as ‘deve’ to the community people, instead of going to hire a shop and before they know it, we demolish the caravan, to them government has not been fair. Those who just get a machine and go to anywhere to start dredging sand, when we stopped them because of the environmental impact, they believe the government has not been fair to them. Those who are arrested in various sanitation offences, those companies that have been sanctioned because of the environmental pollution and spillages, they think that the government is not fair.
It’s all about interests. But one thing that Uduaghan has done that nobody can challenge is the area of the peace and security. If the people are shooting, fighting and killing themselves, the governor cannot sit down to rule a chaotic state. He has invested so much in peace and security and the result is there for all to see. He has been able to stabilize the peace in the state. Nobody can take this away from him. We should be grateful to the governor for what he has done for all of us. My CV alone is very weighty. In eight years, he has given me different responsibilities. I don’t see it as a right, but a privilege. That is why you can see that I am always out working. I don’t just sit in the office. I will just die because I am a functional man.
In all that has been done, what legacy do you think this government is leaving for the next administration?
The legacy he is leaving behind is peace. All those other achievements were only possible because of peace. If the state were unsettled, the government would have been unable to do anything else. Since the time Ibori came in, he managed the situation until Uduaghan took over. Uduaghan took charge of the situation, and now there is peace everywhere. So the legacy is peace. Not even the bridges he has built, the legacy he has left for Senator Okowa is peace. You couldn’t have built a house in Uvwie when the environment was hostile. But you can go and build now. There is stability, peace, and even when the youths come around, they want to go and work. Peace is what I consider as the biggest legacy for the Governor-elect to build on.
Now, due to limited resources and numerous issues to attend to in the state, government has to give priorities to some above others. What are those areas that the Uduaghan administration has prioritized within the last eight years?
The government has paid so much attention to the health sector and the testimony is there. Also, infrastructures: roads, bridges especially the conspicuous flyovers. Also the education sector has received attention; we see Masters’ Degree scholars being given scholarships, free education up to free registration for the WAEC and NECO examinations, and of course building of modern schools. These are visible achievements.
But there are some things that the government has done that are more than that. The amount of money that goes into security and peace keeping, people will not appreciate it. It is when there is trouble, that people will know that peace is key. Take the issue of the Chibok Girls that people have been shouting about for more than a year now. That tells the need for security. It is not easy for the government to pay attention to so many areas at the same time. It is easy for anybody to wake up and go on a television station to start making one or two accusations or criticisms, but it is not easy to be in government yourself. I am talking out of experience. You can abuse Governor Uduaghan, but I know what he has passed through in these four years. Eight years of blackmail and undue criticisms, and that is why you see him always thanking God. He has the fear of God in him and is grateful that God has kept him this far.
Having served this government, do you feel satisfied with all that has happened?
Of course I do, and that is why I join others to thank the Governor for giving the opportunity to offer my expertise to the government. It is not a permanent job and I am aware of that. I am highly satisfied with the opportunity I have been given and that I am a part of all the achievements of this administration. There were other people who felt they could have performed better, but the Governor kept me in this family.
What is your next line of action after May 29?
Before then, this cabinet would have been dissolved. As a Deltan, I am aware that the national government is not a PDP government anymore. Anything that will make Senator Okowa to succeed, I will do it, whether or not he asks me for it. This is because those are going to be the basis for the party’s campaign in 2019. It is a PDP government and I would not want the PDP to have any problem with campaigning in future elections. That is what will make me happy.
What key areas do you think the incoming government of Senator Okowa should focus on?
I cannot dictate such for him. I am not in a position to do that. Senator Okowa has much more experience in governance. He is a learned man, nobody can tell him where to focus on, what we have to do is to support him in every way we can. He has been in governance in different levels. I know him very well. What advice can I give to him that he doesn’t already know? In fact my advice is to Deltans. Give him all the support. He has the grassroot experience. I will advice Deltans not to give him unnecessary pressure, or go about lying and blackmailing him. We should be patient. Times are hard, and the economy is facing challenges. The PDP is not at the national government and so the pressure on him will be much. So, let’s give him the needed support to succeed.