Interview with Chief Onuesoke
Chief Sunny Onuesoke is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party and founder of Onuesoke Foundation, a non-governmental organization with a grounded charitable status and also a leading voice in raising awareness of climate change in Nigeria. In this interview with the Mail Newspaper Political Editor, Emeka Nwokocha, Chief Onuesoke spoke eloquently on the prospects of Delta state with Senator Okowa as governor, the menace of climate change and the socio-economic challenges in Delta State and Nigeria. He proffers workable solutions to current dwindling oil revenue, pointing at agriculture as the only way forward to economic prosperity of the people, even as he outlines ways of mitigating climate change in the country with reliance on the professional resource of the Onuesoke Foundation. Excerpts:
Sir, Senator ifeanyi Okowa of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is now the governor of Delta State. What are the prospects of the state under the leadership of Okowa?
I must tell you that the man currently at the saddle of leadership in the state, Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is a personality I know very well. I can vouch for his administrative wizardry to turn things around for better in a short period of time. To be specific, the kind of things you will see in the state if Okowa is given full support by Deltans to rule the state, I tell you in 4 years time, Delta State will be comparable to Lagos state. Let me assure you that good things will be unfolding soon and Deltans will be shocked at the ingenuity of the governor. My prayer is that he should have good and dynamic lieutenants to drive his developmental projects. I have no doubt in my mind that Governor Okowa will be marvelous in delivering quality services to the people. All he needs at the moment is full cooperation from the ethnic groups in the state for him to forge ahead.
What are the challenges Governor Okowa may encounter in his effort to wheel Delta state on the path of economic prosperity and what measures would you advice him to deploy to be able to surmount them?
As you may know, I am soliciting my governor in the area of creating wealth by establishing primary, secondary and tertiary industries to drive industrial growth of the state and create opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths to be engaged in productive activities. When he creates these production sectors, the economy of the state would have been expanded and the unusual focus and attention of the government to the over bloated civil service as the only employment given sector will become insignificant. I must tell you over time, the civil service industry is creating laziness; it is common place to see the employees loitering without good conscience and apparently not adding value to the sector. I will encourage the governor not to employ unnecessarily into the civil service. I implore him to look beyond the civil service employment knowing that the solution to unemployment is simply creating of wealth. I call on the governor to concentrate more on productive and result oriented sectors such as agro allied industries that could encourage productivity and the concept of school to land programmes. Through this initiative, his government could impart positively on the well being of the teeming population of indigent Deltans.
When you produce enough food in a state and the populace is well fed, they will have good sense of reasoning. On the reverse, when the people are hungry without food in their belly, they take to the streets. If governor Okowa emphasizes agriculture more his then we are going to have an upshot of secondary factories being developed out of the need to convert the agricultural produce into different products.
Governor Okowa should understand that by the dwindling revenue of the country obviously caused by falling oil price, every state will be having a sharp reduction in their revenue. According to a popular saying in Warri “when hungry touch stomach, you go discover your talent.” Therefore, this is the right time for us in Delta state to discover our talents. The governor needs to create wealth using available resources in the state. On that note, we could create a highly technological waste management company to convert organic waste to organic manure. It is important to say that we voted governor Okowa as a servant not as a leader. It is our duty to follow the servant because he is there to serve us. On the other hand, we must cooperate with him; we must pay our taxes and contribute our quota so that the state can run smoothly. We must also revive our industries to make them function optimally. Do you know the economic advantage of floating a water transport company in the coastal communities? I remember the days of Ogbomudia, then we had Delta boat yard, a viable water transport resource. We can improve on the services of Delta Line and make it profitable and independent; what about the Waste Management Board? These institutions should be revived to boost Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
My candid advice is that the institutions and parastatals should focus on how to generate funds and employ the youths instead of depending on Okowa to provide subvention. Gone are the days of giving subvention to institutions because the government of Okowa will no longer do that. In a nutshell, the idea of giving subvention to state owned establishments is uncalled for. Tell me, is it wrong for DESOAPDEC to set up institutions that will generate funds for itself? I think we demand better explanation on the management of the Commission. DESOPADEC can be more meaningful to the people of Delta state if the resources are prudently deployed to create additional wealth to grow the economy of the state. It is not out of place if the management of DESOPADEC set up factories to employ the teeming unemployed youths. What about a thriving industry like fishing which is more of a local profession for the Itsekiris and Ijaws? DESOPADEC can procure trawlers and sponsor the youths to Malaysia to go train on how to use the trawlers for fishing and then build cold rooms of 11000 metric ton where the fishes will be stored as merchandize. Take a look at the activities of Cameroonian and Ghanaian fishermen on the international water; you will see trawlers being used for catching fishes. DESOPADEC is known as an interventionist agency. What is it all about?
Over the years, bad leadership has been isolated as the root cause of Nigeria’s underdevelopment. If you were in the position to steer the leadership of the country, what would you do differently in order put the country on the path of growth?
I think the major problem with Nigeria is that we have bitten more than we can chew. We pledge our lives above our development capacity. To be precise, Nigeria is a nation that should not use Land Cruiser and Toyota Jeep because we have not been able to produce a Volkswagen. If we must move ahead as a progressive nation, then we must reduce our overhead cost. It is worrisome to note that it is only in Nigeria that the recurrent and capital expenditure is almost at par. If the country must move forward, we must downsize our overhead cost, we must downsize our recurrent expenditure. We are just a salary paying oligarchy system all over Nigeria. We must trim down the overhead cost of leadership in the country. We must emphasize primary institutions like agriculture. The greatest nations in the world today are agriculture dominated countries. I am appealing to the governments to subsidize farmers so there will be surplus food. When we have surplus food, we can put them into cans and straight to the super markets. I think Delta State government could establish a tomato blending and packaging company. We do not have any good reason why we cannot repackage and can our agricultural produce in Nigeria for preservation and future use.
Recently, former President Obasanjo, at his convocation lecture at Benson Idahosa University’s Convocation ceremony took a swipe on former President Jonathan, saying that the latter’s performance while in office, whether positive or negative, will haunt the people of the South-South region for a long time to come. How would you respond to that statement?
Former President Obasanjo is one personality I respect very much in this country. I want to say emphatically that such a statement has indicted our children yet unborn. I am disappointed at him. I am sure he is suffering from senile fever associated with old age. I want to believe Obasabjo was misquoted, but if he was not misquoted, then he must be responsible for the problem of Nigeria. Obasanjo, by that statement, overstepped his bounds. If I may ask, is Obasanjo God? Is he more intelligent than the people of South-South that he would not mind what he says against the people? Obasanjo wasted eight years as President of this country and could not account for 16 billion dollars he squandered. What has Jonathan done to Obasanjo? Well, the final judge is the ultimate God, so, I implore him to withdraw that statement and apologize to the people of South South that he was being misquoted.
Onuesoke Foundation is currently a house hold name in the South-South and beyond, going by its programmes. What informed the establishment of this organization and what are its primary goals?
It may interest you to know that I grew up in the rural area; my dad was a bricklayer, while my mum was a garri seller. I must tell you, times were had. I had it rough while growing up. I had 10 years gap in the course of my education. I first had an OND and later proceeded to Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma for a degree in Public Administration. I have a strong passion for raising awareness of climate change. I have attended international various seminars in USA, and Germany. When I look at what is going on in our society today, I see a huge gap between the government and the communities. As part of my Social Corporate Social Responsibility, I have to donate the Onuesoke Foundation, a non-governmental organization grounded in charitable programmes and projects. I raise fund from my personal investment to run the Foundation. When I was in government for eight years, I raised money from my salary to develop the foundation. I am passionate about climate change. I want to tell Nigerians that in 10 years time we are going to experience a huge change in our climate which would have adverse consequence on our society as a result of negative human activities such as deforestation, flaring of gas, emission of carbon monoxide etcetera. I can recall when I was a little boy, I used to experience the hammathan season, but today, in the urban areas, there is no hammathan again due to the effect of climate change. This is the effect of gross deforestation and emission carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I have been pushing for a bill at the federal and state level for protection and preservation of the trees and forests. It is my desire that the trees live out their life span just like humans, because the function of the trees compliment our own function as humans. Naturally, the trees give us oxygen while they absorb the carbon dioxide we breathe out – this cleans the air by removing harmful carbon dioxide so that people and animals can breathe. Let me tell you something, with the rate of deforestation going on in Delta state at the moment, a situation whereby Ministry of Land and Survey permits people to build structures on natural swamp areas/water channels, our society and environment are facing serious threat posed by flooding..
To save our environment from serious consequence, we need to promote the culture of forest reservation; we need to clean up our urban cities. Why is it that our communities cold while the urban cities are very hot? It is mostly because of emissions in the urban areas. We must not forget that our present climatic condition is seriously hampering our agricultural produce. I think it is important the state government takes a firm stand on reversing the ugly trend in order to save our environment from the consequences of climate change. The government can embark on aggressive policy of massive afforestation. I make bold to say that if the Delta state government can support my Foundation (Onuesoke Foundation), in the task of planting one million trees to stem the scourge of climate change, I assure you, I will be able to access one million dollars from world carbon fund. My Foundation is primarily focused on the down trodden, we have solid infrastructure to build a healthy society. We have a mobile library, we promote academic programmes in schools through donation of books, uniforms etc. We embark on community development projects, leadership seminars and lots more. I believe that is the only way we can bridge the wide gap between the government and the people who are mostly the down trodden. We are proud to say that our programmes are practically on the ground, a feat that has carved a niche for our Foundation. We are solidly on the ground; we have two acres of nursery trees and others. I am an advocate of a law that will stop Nigerians from buffering the trees. Then it will be a crime when you cut the trees in your compound unless on permission from the appropriate authority. Trees sustain our environment; they cushion the effect of the wind. With more trees, flooding will be under control. When we plant trees, we mitigate the adverse effect of climate change. I know Governor Okowa is in love with healthy environment, in spite of the fact that he has been a medical doctor, he goes crazy for agriculture, he will perform excellently in that direction.
August 27, 2018