We are recording far-reaching investments in riverine area – Edema

The Chairman of the Ondo State Oil Producing Area (OSOPADEC), Mr Olugbenga Omogbemi Edema featured on THE HOPE Platform recently where he took stock of various achievements already recorded in the last two years of his administration and equally rolled out others in the pipeline.   

Excerpts:

What achievements have you recorded since your assumption of office?

In the last one year plus that we have been in the saddle, we have a few things that we can catalogue as our achievements. We acknowledge the fact that OSOPADEC had its challenges before we came on board, I can say the commission was in a doldrum. A lot of its activities were in limbo so we first had the task of revitalising the place and bringing it back to life.

Workers’ morale was at the lowest level and salaries were not paid. People found it very difficult to come to work. There was no electricity and water.  So we had to look at how to re-engineer the place.

Like I always tell my staff, the greatest asset any organisation could have is the workforce because it is like the engine of that organisation. You can come with brilliant ideas, you can have great vision but without having the people who will power the vision, it will die in the realm of the dream or  vision, so you need the workforce to carry the vision through.

First of all, we started with training, the workers must key into our vision. What appeared to be our common vision then was to think anew, act anew which is our mantra. So we had the first training in May at FUTA, there we were able tell them our vision and how we would actualise the vision. It was there we designed our logo, Motto, mantra, vision and mission statement of the organisation. They now know that then they were in the wilderness and want to move to the promise land.  We were able to pay salaries and allowances, we are not owing any worker a dime. I thank God that we have been able to revitalise the morale of the workforce.

I can beat my chest to say all my workers now are computer literate. We have had two sessions of computer interaction, they have even gone for advanced computer appreciation. Beyond the basis, they now know the applications relevant to their respective trade. If you are a human resource person, you would know that you need Microsoft office, if you are in engineering dept, you know you need Autocad and all the designing packages and even the accounting officers too have theirs.

Be that as it may, we looked at how it can affect our people at the mandate area. Without a good workforce, there is no way we can deploy. For instance, in the last two years, to pay bursary was a difficult thing. In fact, I understand that year in and out, the students would have to struggle, and riot to get their bursary. To the glory of God, we had, in last two years paid bursary and scholarship as and when due. We paid over N200m in 2017, N240m in 2018 for our students in all tertiary institutions. The process for 2019 will begin anytime from now, the delay is because of the ASUU strike. We are improving the capacities of our people in the mandate area.

We also inherited a lot of projects and it is the mandate of Mr Governor that we don’t abandon any project. We looked at some of these projects that are critical and very dear to our state like the waterworks at Aboto. The water plant project contract was awarded by the then governor Mimiko but the pipe laying and reticulation were not completed before he left. But I can beat my chest that we have completed all that now. We have tested the water at the level of Igbokoda but that pipeline must also go to Ugbo, Ugbo-Nla and Mahin.  That of Mahin is having a difficulty because the bridge linking Mahin and Aboto end to the riverine area has some problems so the pipe laying could not be connected at that point. So, we said if we cannot connect to those areas for now, why don’t we allow those at Igbokoda to enjoy it first. We have tested the water and we are only waiting for Mr Governor to commission between now and February the water so that people can start using it.

We also inherited a few hostel building projects in our tertiary institutions at AAUA , RUGIPO and another at OSUSTECH.  We are revitalising those hostels because they are needed to house our students so that they also can live campus life. A lot of these tertiary institutions’ students don’t have campus life because they live off campus and don’t allow university culture to actually pass  through them.  By the grace of God, we hope we will be able to complete them.

…Cuts in, are the hostels going to be free for the students?

They cannot be free. Laughs… But we will do it in such a manner that it won’t be so high that people won’t be able to afford it. It is not going to be a private enterprise but there would token collected from the students so that we can manage all the facilities such as water, electricity and so on.

Again, the road between Irele-Ayeka, that road has been a hell of problem over the years. It was awarded by late Olusegun Agagu around 2009 to be completed within a record time but they had a problem because of the terrain. A lot of solutions were being put in place but never worked out but by the time we came in, some consultants came and developed concrete slabs that would make it long lasting. The road is in use now but has not been commissioned. We believe it will be one of those roads the governor will commission in February to mark his second year anniversary in office.

Talking about the social security; how do we touch the lives of our people: the aged, the physically challenged and youths. You would recalled that sometimes  in November 2017, the government pronounced amnesty for persons who would be ready to relinquish their ammunitions in their custodies and more than 4,500 persons were profiled under the programme. They registered and we did the biometric capturing. We had the assurance of the federal government at that time but as we are talking now the federal government is yet to fulfill its own part of the bargain. We are already discussing with the governor on how to harvest some of these young person’s to see how best we can take them away from the Creek and that is why we have to think of skill acquisition or trade and also give them starter pack when they finished and as well find some corporations or organizations that can  absorb them.

The Aboto/Atijere road we also inherited was awarded but some challenges came up such that mobilisation could not be paid before we came on board. We are already working on that to determine the contractors to re-award to, so that it can kick start any moment from now.

The big one: that is the Araromi/Lekki 51km road. You would also recalled that sometimes in March, the state government signed an MoU with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) with a view to construct the road to link the state with Lagos State. Immediately I came on board, we took over negotiating and agreeing with NDDC. You would remember that road was flagged off in March 14 last year and also that the governor mentioned in his budget that the road contract will be signed within this month. So I can tell you now that everything is set. Before the end of January, the contract will be awarded, in fact they are going to unveil the contractors soon when the tender documents are opened.

You know the implications of that road, you don’t have to do merry-go-round If you are going to Lagos from Ondo State, all you need do is to go through Igbokoda  to Araromi and Lo an behold, you will be in Lekki. So you would have saved close to four or five travel time along that route.

What other advantages would the road have when completed?

When the road is completed, it s going to open us to Lagos which is the commercial hub of Nigeria. Lagos has a huge market, and huge population, so any state linked with Lagos will have a great advantage and that is what Ogun State is leveraging upon. All those industrial areas in Ogun state such as Agbara, Mowe/Ibafo, they are what they are because of their proximity to Lagos. So why don’t we also take advantage of proximity to Lagos when we can share just about 30 kilometers from Araromi to Lekki. So the road is going to improve exponentially the economy of Ilaje local government and the entire Ondo South. That means somebody coming from Onitsha or Benin city needs not go through the long journey again but via off Ore to Igbokoda and in less than one and a half hours, you are already in Lagos from Ore junction .

What is the level of involvement of the NDDC in the project?

Ondo State is paying 60 percent through OSOPADEC while NDDC pays 40 percent.

Is it not a political gimmick that the road project will fly?

I said earlier that by the end of the week, the tender documents would be opened. You know it has a process, that means we will know the contractor who actually won the project contract. To tell you that it is not a political gimmick, we had to slot it into two lots, so two sets of contractors will be emerging. The state Tender Board will call us any moment from now for the documents to be opened and when the bill is open,  then that is the beginning of the contract. So wait a little while and you would find out if it is a political gimmick or not.

And you happen to be the first Mahin man to chairman OSOPADEC, why?

Well, OSOPADEC was created in 2001. You would recalled that the first Executive Secretary (CEO) of the commission, that is Mr. Ajose Kudehinbu is also from Mahin, at that time, the chairmanship lied in the governor. The then late Chief Adefarati was the chairman. In fact, I’m the first executive chairman not the first CEO from Mahin for that organisation. So it is the prerogative of the governor to determine who he wants to put there.  May be it is a share coincidence that some of us come from a particular area. There is no hard and fast rule about this, all that matter is that you must come from oil producing areas and Mahin community is oil producing: that is what the law says.

Your commission was allocated N7b in this year budget, how do you intend to manage this?

Unfortunately, N7b is not even sufficient to achieve what we intend to achieve especially in the area of capital projects. Of the N7b, over one billion naira will go into recurrent, paying workers salaries, running grants, and other transfers that would go into it. So, what we would have at the end of the day may not be more than N4b or so and I told you we inherited lots of mega projects. We have to complete that water project, we are still owing in the Irele/Ayeka road project, by the time we commissioned, we are bound to pay once the certificates are raised. The Araromi /Lekki road is also a project we have to put in our commitment. I know the project would not be less than N20b,that means every year, we must put our commitment. That’s why I said the N7b is not sufficient to meet our commitments, so we desire more.

So what is the commission doing to boost it’s IGR, knowing many commitments it has to attend to?

There won’t be much as to what the commission can do as to how to boost its revenue except we have to invest part of it. We are supposed to take 40 percent of the 30 percent oil derivation from the government and this is fixed. Every month, if you go to the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance, you will see what comes to d state. So, 40percent of this comes to us, it is now our responsibility to manage the resources prudently. And that is why when we came on board in April we said we cannot use all our ten fingers to eat. We cannot be consuming everything that comes to OSOPADEC. With the approval of Mr Governor, we created a Business and Investment department.  With the support of the governor and the board, we were able to incorporate a company called Coastville Global Resources Ltd  to see that a portion that comes to us must be invested because if we don’t invest now, there will be nothing to fall back upon when the oil price goes down.  Like what happened in 2015, 2016, when the price if oil went down abysmally and that also affected how much came into OSOPADEC from the 30 percent derivation fund.

Thank God we have some other assets we can capitalise upon. The hostels we have talked about cannot be given out free, we are already negotiating with the landlord institutions to see how we complete and manage them together, do a joint venture agreement if the need be so that we can also share the profit. We also have a waterworks in Aboto, you would marvel when you get there, not many states in Nigeria have that type of waterworks. If we are not going to deliver water free of charge there. Then we will have a special  project vehicle that will power it, because if it is powered through OSOPADEC, one day you would have a chairman that would just ask how much they have there and collect the money. But when it is managed  and it is incorporated with its own separate board and management, that means we will only be taking dividends because they won’t be the sole owner of the company. Thank God the governor has approved that we can produce sachet and bottled water in that waterworks.

So we are looking for areas of advantage. For instance, we built markets and we want to hand over to owners, we have Omoro market in Ugbo, by the time, it is completed, we will give it out to be managed.

By the approval of the governor too, we now have a Micro Finance Bank. When we get license for the bank, it will help us manage the micro economy of our people.  A lot of people borrow money from Igbokoda and Ugbo at high interest rates, so if we are able to manage our own, we will be moderate in our deals since the bank will be regulated by the CBN. These are innovations we are putting in place to improve the well-being of our people to also touch their lives in various ways.

What is the commission doing to pacify or incorporate the militants in the mandate area? Recently it was reported that there was a resurgence of militancy in the riverine area?

(Cuts in) Well, let me just say one thing. We still pride ourselves as the most peaceful state in the Niger Delta area and we are proud about it.  Initially, people do think that kidnapping, robbery or militancy is a trade mark of the people in the riverine area of the state but you can recall that in the last two years especially after the interaction with them using the amnesty window, the spate of kidnapping and other forms of militancy had actually gone down. In fact, kidnapping had moved from the Niger Delta area to Akoko-Owo, Ose no longer a thing of the south senatorial district.

Be that as it may, we are engaging them. You see, these people are cool headed, it is not that they are crazy people as we think but the environment and long years of neglect caused it. But since we have been engaging them in the last two years, you could see that the spate have really gone down. Very soon when we begin some of our projects, we are also going to engage them.

 For instance, the multi-billion naira Araromi/Lekki road project, if we can engage some of these guys, give them a little training and put them there to work, will they not be out of the creeks to do legitimate work? Will they not be happy with what they are doing? Some of them are trained in one skill or the other, some of them are even university graduates. You may not believe it. About two to three weeks ago when I went to the riverine area with some people from the Federal Ministry of Agric, when they saw those guys and the way they were communicating, the people marvelled at the grammar they were blowing and argued if they were actually militants. I said a lot of them are university graduates and some with HND and NCE, so don’t look at them as frustrated beings but that the environment that made them so. So since we have been engaging them, they are also very reasonable people. So by the time these projects are coming up, they can have buy-in with what we do, I bet you, things will go on well.

It has happened in the past, during Agagu era that the militants were made to be involved in the government projects in that area at every stage, they were asked to bring their labourers, they were asked to bring semi-skilled and skilled persons. So by the time you involve them, they embrace those projects and take ownership. They too want to ride on good roads; they also want their children to go to good schools and so on, it is not that they are hopeless people who do not know the best things of life.

We expect that by now, the commission should have introduced modern technology in fishing, preserving and packaging but it is the same crude way, why is this so?

As if you were in my mind, we have discussed with Mr Governor and he had seen reasons with us on this. One of the problems we have in the riverine area is that we don’t culture fish. Fish is still being caught in the wild. So they don’t have control over yield. Some people who are at the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean just go to the sea to catch fish or crayfish and they are subjected to the vagaries of the sea.

So what we are trying to introduce is what we called the cage culture. The cage culture is to encourage people to breed fish, so that they can have total control over yield from the beginning to the end when you harvest. So we are already discussing with a lot of organisations including the Fishery Society of Nigeria. Their President came about two or three weeks ago, we have taken him round the riverine area. So by the time we have cage culture and we put them in cooperatives, they can do up to three times a year because we were told we can crop from four to six months a year depending on the specie of the fish. From the feasibility study that was given to us by the consultant, I see it as the future of fishing in Ondo State and even in Nigeria. And with this also, we can take a lot of our youths out of the Creeks.

Beyond that, we are demonstrating a drying or smoking kiln there. The essence of the kiln is to give them modern way of smoking or drying the fish and to also improve the shelf life. We have also tested it and we found out that it is good, it does not have soothe, no smoke and can enter the international market. And you can put it on the table for months because we have reduced the moisture content to a considerably low level.  

We have been talking about value chain addition. And by this, we can also invite the banks to come. All the banks need is guaranteed by OSOPADEC. So if we put them in cooperative societies and they open bank accounts, within six to seven months within the banking system, banks will see the viability of the business and will be ready to also support us, that without prejudice to all our partners: USAID and others, who we are already talking to in the Niger/Delta area so that they can also come to our aid and use this to empower our young men and women to become meaningfully engaged and self sufficient.

Are you thinking of having a sort of fishery institute or training school to train people specifically in this area?

 Like one of the MoUs we signed with the Fishery Society of Nigeria, we talked about training. So we are leveling on the understanding to help us with what we have on ground, part of which is for them to also help us supervise this project.  For instance, there is a hatchery in Ugbo-Nla that a lot of us may not know about. Somebody must have built it for OSOPADEC, in the last 10 years; it has been lying fallow there. We have gone to reactivate the fish hatchery, with support of the fishery Society of Nigeria. This is one of the facilities we are putting in place for the fish culture. 

When we have fish culture, it will help to determine the yield apart from the knowledge that it would impact on people’s lives.

On Ayetoro sea incursion, the state government has drawn the attention of the federal government to it and lots of promises were made, what actually has been done?

The sea incursion in Ayetoro is actually a great challenge.  It goes beyond OSOPADEC  and even beyond the state because I’m sure the fund needed to arrest the situation would be enormous.  I know that in the time past, the NDDC awarded a contract on the sea incursion but I think there was something wrong with the design because they said they were going to use one technology they called geo-tube and the attempt to put it in place failed. But I think we can leverage on what is happening at the Bar Beach in Lagos because Ayetoro is not the first place to witness such. If you go to the Bar Beach or Atlantic City, you will see big stones built to arrest incursion.  In the 80s, the Ahmadu Bello Way seemed taken over by the sea but some people came to put granite stones and arrested the situation, that can also be employed at Ayetoro. And it may not be as expensive as what people think it would be.  I have this personal belief that it is likely going to be cheaper than geo-tube tech that was initially designed for it. So, I will just appeal to NDDC, since that project is still ongoing, not yet terminated,  they should see how the project can be redesigned, using local materials that are readily available to arrest the incident.

Then, I think, since the Federal Ministry of Environment came to inspect the place, they must be thinking of the best solution to put in place to arrest the sea incursion.

What is your advice to the people in that area?

My advice to our youths is that they need to cooperate with the government as it is trying as much as possible to attend to them. They should maintain peace. Though peace has returned but peace must reign. When peace reigns, we can be sure that development will follow. When a place is riotous, chaotic and where there is fear every time, there is no way development can come. And they have a good government that listen and care about their welfare. For instance, they may not know that Akeredolu’s government is putting a Free-Trade Zone along the area over 45kmsq where we are going to have a huge volume of industrialists coming to invest there. Even before then, there is a company now, SGM that has gone there; they are already working in the place now, after the tobacco roundabout. These are huge investments that the government is bringing to the place.

Also the government is talking about the Deep Sea port. By the time we put all these facilities in place by the grace of God, I doubt if there is anybody who wants to work, skilled or not, that will not have something to do on these projects.

One of the reasons we are able to attract these investments to the state is because we say Ondo State is the most peaceful of the Niger/Delta states and this is verifiable.  It is known to the world even that Ondo State is the most peaceful in the Niger/Delta region, so we want to appreciate them for that.

In 2019, what are your specific developmental plans?

We don’t want to pretend to do so many things because we may not be able to do anything eventually. One, we want to commence that Araromi/Lekki road and take it to an appreciable level. Two, we want water to flow in Igbokoda using the water treatment plant in Aboto, the pipe laying and reticulation. In any case, in 2019, water should flow in their taps at Igbokoda, Mahin, Ugbo-Nla and Ugbo. We also want the road from Irele and Ayeka to be completed and off our neck. In 2019, we are also thinking that Aboto/Atijere road project should start and work should be going on there.

In the social arena, we are also talking about continuing with our welfare packages to the aged, physically challenged, bursary payments and scholarship commitment. Then like I have said, the smoking kiln is there, when we finish our experimentation and it works, we are planning to mass-produce it for the benefit of our people. We also want to see that the cage culture is replicated for our people’s use. All these things must also be measurable within the stipulated time. So, all these things we are planning to achieve by the grace of God in the space of 200 working days remaining in the year.

Owena Press Limited (Publisher of The Hope Newspaper), Akure

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