Comrade Sunny Ofehe, a human rights activist and Founder/Executive Director of the Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC), is the governorship candidate of Young Progressives Party (YPP). In this interview, he speaks on developments in the Delta State and the 2023 general election. FELIX NWANERI reports
Delta State has been a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)- controlled state for 23 years running; how does Young Progressives Party (YPP) want to break such grip in the forthcoming general election?
The concept of a controlled state does not seem to fit well with the existential conditions on the ground. The conditions on the ground tell a different story even when it is obvious it has not reflected in who or what other party governs the state. This leaves us typically with a cause to worry about and that is If the majority of our people do not seem to be in sync with the PDP-dominated state government since 1999. The question then is: How has the PDP managed to sustain its hold on the state’s politics and governance. Two answers will be pertinent here.
The first is the system through which votes are secured and counted has not been full proof. So, we’ve had incidences of votes gerrymander, swoops and ballot box stuffing and snatching, and in some intermediate cases, we have seen deliberate attempts to tinker with voting outcomes by the electoral agency saddled with the responsibility to protect votes. The next is the general apathy of our people, which is predicated on the assumption that their votes won’t count; that the outcome has been predetermined and so nothing of any serious change will come to the process.
These misleading judgements have given a lair to those politicians,who continue to think that government is a family business and in the process exploit this lethargic social apathy towards elections to foist their hold on the system. But with the improvements that we see in the enhanced Permanent Voters Card (PVC) registration and collection, the bimodal voting platforms and the capacity to transmit results electronically, it will be difficult to see how a party like the PDP that has nothing to show for its several years of governance of the state would get the mandate of the people to continue.
Evidence shows that the PDP in the state appears to show signs of fracture intendment in itself, which obviously threatens to tear that party apart over its unresolved gubernatorial grab and gabble primaries. As a political party, YPP is seizing the moment to sell its service-based products upon which its engagement with the people is situated.
We are building men and political wits across the state to serve as grassroots musters of support that will ensure our common people have a different kind of orientation, an orientation based on values and preferences come 2023. Let me make it clear that the era where few people think they can decide who gets what, when and how is gone and no longer feasible today. We are going to have an all-out straight engagement to produce a government in the state with a value product that addresses itself to the services needs of our common people.
Until recently, you were in the All Progressives Congress (APC), when did you leave the party and knowing that the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, the party’s candidate is your friend, people say it is a game plan for you to step down for him later. How correct is that assumption?
I joined the APC after an extensive consultation both in Nigeria and outside of Nigeria in 2018. It was the APC that offered the best platform for me to seek for Delta State governorship at the time. Unfortunately, at the very last minute, the Adams Oshiomholeled APC National Working Committee came up with an astronomically high nomination and expression of interest fee.
The governorship nomination and Expression of Interest forms fee rose from N6.5 million to N22.5 million. This made me to approach a Federal Capital Territory High Court to declare that unconstitutional, null and void. I also prayed the court for an order perpetually restraining the party from continuing with the sale of Nomination and Expression of interest forms at exorbitant fees.
I also sought an order of the court directing the party to revert to the old fees. However, I was asked by top party members at both the state and national levels to respect the wish of the party since the party is supreme. I was therefore told to withdraw the court case and step down for Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru, who according to them, was the consensus 2019 candidate for the APC in Delta State.
I respected the wishes of the party members, withdrew the case and eventually stepped down for Chief Ogboru, who I later worked with during the election. Now, to the question of my candidacy being a game plan for me to later step down for Senator Omo-Agege; there is no iota of truth in that. Distinguished Senator Omo-Agege is not just a friend as you have described but a leader and a mentor to me. He is a man I have so much respect for and I think he accords me respect also as a young and hardworking man. His rise from a state commissioner to Deputy Senate President as a Deltan should be a pride for anyone from my state to appreciate.
However, the beauty of democracy is to have the best candidates’ line up before the electorate with clear manifestos on how to revive the sinking Delta State economy and infrastructural collapse and leaving the voters to decide who eventually becomes their governor in 2023. The pool of candidates we have today for the Delta State governorship race are gentlemen with impeccable résumés, which will make the election the most intriguing. Therefore, how to fix Delta and make Delta the 7th largest economy in Sub-Sahara Africa is my ultimate objective. So, I have never contemplated and will never succumb to stepping down for Senator Omo-Agege or any other candidate in this Delta State gubernatorial race. I am in the race to compete and win!
All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate, Chief Great Ogboru and Senator Omo- Agege, the APC candidate were your bosses in APC some months ago. Don’t you think they will ask what is this youth doing in men’s arena, contesting for Delta State governorship?
I became 50 this year and in another double tenure of the next administration, I will be almost 60! At my current age, I am young, strong, healthy and capable of handling the rigors of any day-to-day administration of public office, including the office of the Governor of Delta State. I was 23 years old when I left Nigeria for The Netherlands, a country I knew nobody and arrived at the airport in Amsterdam in November 1995.
Despite the odds and challenges, I was able to build a reputation for myself. Today, I can look back at my last 26 years in The Netherlands and be proud of how the country and the people have transformed my thinking and way of looking at society. As you may know, I have championed the very critical issues of the Niger Delta region before the world. I have engaged European Union government agencies and the United Nations institutions on the need to tackle the menace caused by multinational oil corporations operating with impunity in our oil-rich region.
The driving force behind my ambition is embedded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which I have discussed with several interested persons, groups, corporations and civil society organisations on how we can achieve them through the people living in the rural areas of third world countries, including Nigeria and in this specific case, Delta State. I have also built trust and confidence among European business owners, entrepreneurs, multinational companies and international donor and services organisations. Delta State cannot create jobs without Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), which is needed to revamp dead companies in the state and build new factories.
It is not by accident that I live in the Dutch Port City of Rotterdam, a city that has carved a niche of becoming the most popular and third largest Port City in the world today; a city that has transformed its rivers, creeks and lakes into irrigation for agricultural purposes and management of flooding.
I have discussed the mechanism and management of this effective system with officials of the Rotterdam City Council. These are some of the major problems we face in Delta State. The solution is not farfetched and it is not rocket science. What is needed is responsible, diplomatic and knowledgeable leadership, which I can provide for my people.
On the issue of agricultural management, the Dutch as you know is the largest exporter of dairy products in Europe and Nigeria’s second largest trading partner. I am currently exploring ways of building a working relationship with the Dutch Wageningen University and Research Institute, one of the best agricultural research institutes in the world, on improving, mechanizing and optimizing our agricultural potential. Delta State with our geographical setting, landscape and land fertility can not only feeds itself but can also become an exporter of agricultural produce to the world.
I have what it takes to restore the dwindling relationship between Delta State host communities and multinational companies. I strongly believe that as a governor, I can guarantee the security and peace required and the diplomacy necessary to convince the multinational companies to return their corporate offices back to our state where the ‘black gold’ is being exploited.
This will bring in jobs and generate revenue through corporate taxes. In Asaba, you know how much destruction, traffic and menace is caused when it rains even in the smallest inches. The flooding leaves a permanent scar because there is no proper drainage to manage the water into the closest River Niger source. Is this not a shame, that the seat of the state government is rendered useless after any amount of rainfall? There is no proper flood and disaster management in the state yet monies are budgeted yearly for this purpose. Again, the Dutch are the best civil engineers in the world. I am currently in talks with some Dutch and Belgium civil engineering companies on how we can access World Bank and European Union funding with government counterpart funds to free our state, particularly Asaba from further flood-related difficulties and disaster.
I can go on and on mentioning steps I have taken over the years to ensure that I deliver my campaign promises to the people of Delta State but time and space will not allow me. You will hear more in the cause of my campaign. My knowledge and international exposure gives me the capacity to be the first Delta State governor to think beyond the box.
What difference are you bringing to the governance of Delta to warrant the electorate to give their mandate to YPP?
The difference I am bringing will be very obvious. It will be so clear as light from the darkness. First, I am not the usual kind of politician as we know them to be in Nigeria. I mean the type of politician that uses any compromise possible to get elected and then turn away from the people to cater for cronies, self and family. These are the kind of constructs that have shaped the political life of Delta State. We have people in governance who are not responsible and have no clue about what is expected from leadership of the 21st century. They think only in terms of what they can generate from FAAC.
No one is thinking in terms of developing a service-based economy where the people see what is done and contribute their part of the social capital to ensure those services are sustained. I am a global brand! I know how government business is best done in civilized climes. I have seen it and I have lived it. Without trying to impose foreign values on our cultural experience, we insist that there are indigenous value systems that we can employ to make life more abundant for our people. That is the difference YPP is bringing to the table.
We want to make the local government areas work again. We want to ensure that all funds meant for them get to them but we want to put in place a system where even the dispensation of funds in the local government areas are monitored to ensure strict compliance with procedures and ethical principles. On the part of the state, we want to be able to accomplish service-based and legacy projects as well as abandoned projects by previous governments. We want to cut on the white elephant projects that have ensured massive fritting of states funds to dubious outlets. We will bring in modern technology to checkmate ghost workers and open up a civil service reward system that will breathe life into our workforce.
Deltans are hardworking people and with little encouragement, they can do more. We want to show capacity in sustainable healthcare delivery, in the domestic economy, security and infrastructure. We will free our forests of miscreants and ensure our people get involved again in agricultural produce, the type that once made us the export hub of the world.
These are quotients we are bringing into the state economy and you can trust that by the time our components begin to function at full blast, it will correspondingly create jobs and stem the composite problems emerging from the ruralurban drift as well as profoundly impact on the present state of insecurity. These are the structural plank on which our government intends to run, so as to ensure a break from a past marked by insensitivity, demagoguery, corruption and reckless waste of state resources. For the first time, the young population and our senior citizens will be active participants and beneficiaries of a new all-inclusive system model.
What is your assessment of both your State and Federal governments?
Delta State is the second largest producer of crude oil in Nigeria and has one of the highest natural gas deposits in Nigeria; a state with four under-functioning seaports in Warri, Sapele, Koko and Burutu. A 160km coastline state that gives it viability for several marine businesses but yet underutilized. The state has generated billions in internal revenue, FAAC and 13 per cent derivation, making it one of the highest revenue recipients of FAAC and derivation. The actual revenue generated internally is still shrouded in secrecy. Despite all of these revenues coming into the state, there is nothing to show for it.
The roads are in a terrible state, you can’t drive 30 minutes without witnessing terrible life-threatening accidents on the highway. The flooding in Asaba is a disaster as I have earlier mentioned. The healthcare system is paralyzed and just recently we saw pensioners openly protesting about not being paid.
The teachers are complaining that their salaries have become unstable and inconsistent. The failing security of lives and property in the state is at its very lowest ebb. The education system is milking incessant increment of school fees from struggling parents. The tertiary institutions are lacking basic school needs and infrastructure. The worse economic hardship is resulting from the huge debt profile coupled with the recent multi-billion naira double loans secured with less than a year to the end of this administration.
Debt servicing alone is costing the state billions of naira daily, pushing the state into a monthly deficit. The incoming administration will surely inherit huge debts and possibly restructured loans. This will continue to affect the huge wage bill that is costing the state billions in double digits.
I am very much aware of all these challenges and that is why I am working hard to assemble a national and international economic team to draw up a robust economic package that will require fiscal discipline and forex policy to manage my infrastructure, job and wealth creation policies for the state. Delta State and Nigeria deserve a new breath of leadership fresh air and 2023 is availing us the opportunity to make the right choices. Campaign and election money will not guarantee the future of our children. We must make personal sacrifices for us to achieve the Delta and Nigeria of our time and dreams.