How I nearly lost My Life in the Creeks -Emmanuel Uduaghan



By Yemi Olakitan
Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan is a former Delta State Governor from 2007 to 2015 and one of the founding fathers of (PDP) in the Niger Delta. However, he recently decamped to the ruling party, stating increased dialogue and a better understanding of the Niger Delta crisis by the ruling party as his reason. A medical doctor by profession, he was Commissioner for Health and Delta State Secretary before he was elected Governor. He speaks with Yemi Olakitan on growing up in the Niger Delta, cleaning up the Niger Delta and reviving agriculture in the region. Excerpts:
·      With a background in Medicine and surgery, why did you go into Politics?
Actually, I was drafted into politics; every human being has a political aspect of him. In fact, man is a political animal. I was politically aware of what is happening around me especially in government. I used to read a lot and I was interested in what was happening around me at the time. I was a very strong critic of government too – very, very strong critic. I also had people look up to in government, the ogbemudias and co. way back to the days of Awolowo. It was through, Awolowo I was able to attend a Primary School. We had a Primary School in the Village at the time. He was then the Premier of Western Region and he made education free for all. This was how I was able to attend Primary School and got an education.
Later on in life when I started practicing as a medical doctor I was also very critical about government. It was when Ibori came, it was 1990 or thereabout, when Babaginda was still in power and there were elections into the state House of Assembly, Governorship and all. He wanted to contest for House of Representative. He came under NRC and he just drafted some of us. Although I was not a politician at the time, I knew that SDP was the party on ground in Delta state.. It was NRC versus SDP so I advised him that if he contests under NRC he might not win. He said he was sure he could win because he had some advisers who told him to contest and they will back him up. We had that election and he did not win.
During the Abacha era when the five fingers of Abacha were formed, the five political parties, he came with one of them to Delta that was the Grassroots Democratic Movement, (GDM) Again, he drafted some of us. That was when I joined politics actively.
He was interested in me because, according to him, the first time he ran for a political office; it was only two of us that told him the truth. Every other person told him, he would win and they were just collecting his money. He appreciated that a lot and then he wanted me to be around him. He brought me close. That was how I came into politics fully. That is my background.
·      Let’s us flashback a little into your childhood. What was it like growing up in the Niger – Delta?
I grew up in the village called Mostuga, real typical village, no pipe borne water, no electricity. The only sign of civilization there was a Primary School, and then a Baptist church. There was no access road to the place. You have to go by boat. It was such a rural area and ironically very exciting. I had a very fantastic childhood looking back then, everything was just okay. There was food in abundance; there was no polluted environment. We play around, all over the place. There was no criminality of any kind.  The only incident I remembered that was close to criminality was an incident involving one woman. She was partially blind and was living alone. One night, she went out to ease herself and then she found her way back to the house. As she was entering the house it occurred to her that there was somebody in her house. So, she started screaming, people rushed out and of course, they caught the thief. That was the only event I can remember that came close to criminality. Nobody fenced his or her house. I was living with my grandmother. There was no fence in any house; every adult in the community was the father of every child, or the mother of every child. It means that though you may have your biological children but because you and I are the fathers of all our children, all the children could eat in my house, they could eat in your house. In fact, they can sleep in your house or in mine. So, discipline was easier because if any of the adults discover the children misbehaving, they can discipline them and your biological parents will not quarrel with the person. It was such a free community; it was in that type of village that I grew up.
·      What would you say has changed in that community today?
Over the years with the advent of the oil companies, a lot of our land and our waters have become polluted. It started with the oil companies who were not regularly maintaining their facilities and all that. So, the pipelines burst and they pollute our water, land and air. Later, our own activities, people who are doing illegal bunkering, illegal refineries e.t.c. have polluted our land, water and air.   When I was growing up in the village, you could go to the river, put your hands into the river and bring out fish. You can also throw your net, catch some fishes and go home to cook your Banga Soup to eat your Starch. Our food was fresh. It was nutrituos because we had what we needed fresh from land and water. The river was very clear, you could drink it and if you put it in a pot, it becomes very cool, and you don’t need a refrigerator. We used to use the sand in the river to brush our teeth. That is why in those days, even the old people had good sets of teeth, looking fresh and strong. They used simple things like chewing sticks and sand to brush their teeth.
·      What can be done to reverse the situation?
Well, it is important to know that in developing in Nigeria, we must look at other areas beyond oil. Oil has been the mainstay of our economy. This is why we must develop other areas of the economy. When I was in office; I had this vision of Delta beyond oil which is not a small project for a few days of my tenure. We must continue to work on Delta beyond oil.   One of the areas we can look at is Agriculture. Yes we have a lot of land, water and all that. The first point to start is how we can clean up our own environment because we are living in an environment where there is so much pollution.  Cleaning up our environment is not cheap. It must require the cooperation of the state, the Federal Government and international bodies. In Delta state, the first thing we did was to do a study of the level of damage done to our environment. We partnered with one of the united Nation bodies to do the study.  Today, we have the federal Government trying to clean up the Niger – Delta starting with the Ogoni. The Ogoni area is much more polluted. But I do not see the sincerity in trying to do that clean up. It’s been so much politicized, so much ethinicized that even with all the promises and all the funfair that was involved with the project when it started, nothing much has been done. I believe we need to move beyond that. The Federal Government need to take urgent and very serious steps to do the cleaning up.
There also have to be very strong legislation on cleaning up our environment. We have to put up some solid laws that will ensure that the Federal Government takes the issue of cleaning up seriously. If oil companies don’t clean up, they should be ready to pay some heavy fine. These kinds of laws are important so that everybody will be serious about it. We need legislation to stop further pollution; this should include pollution by illegal refineries. The so-called illegal refineries should modernized and operators should be licensed and given crude oil legally. We need legislation that will also put an end to pipeline vandalism. Crude oil thefts as well contribute to environmental pollution because in the process of stealing Crude oil, they damage pipelines. Yes, there are some laws here and there but they are not strong enough. They are not implemented. This means those laws have to be reviewed and more effective legislature should be put in place.
·      Looking at your very humble background. How did you become so successful becoming a Medical Doctor, a Governor and achieving so much in life?
I will attribute it to God’s grace and mercy. All of us have our own destiny. Some were born with silver spoon. Some were born with wooden spoon. Whatever your destiny is you will definitely get there. Sometimes we truncate what God has planned for us with our own hands. I thank God I didn’t truncate mine.
·      There must have been some challenges. How did you overcome them? This is very important because young people can get some inspiration whenever this is published.
Let me say this, though I grew up in the village I had a grandmother who was very discipline, we had no clock but we follow the cocks that crow early in the morning. There are three cockcrows. The first cock crows you have to get up between that times you are getting up another one will crow. That tells you time is getting near, it’s almost time for you to live the house. The first cockcrow tells you to get up. The second one is a reminder. If you are the slow type you move faster. If you are the fast type, you probably would have gotten ready by then. The third one is for everybody to live the house. Most farmers live the house by the third cock crow.
As a young boy when I live the house, I am living with some adults farmers. The women are going to the farm, the men are also going to their rubber farm to tap rubber. I will follow them to the rubber farm and by the time you finish tapping, it will probably be day break. You don’t need your headlamp by that time.. The women would have roasted yam or plantain. The men will now go to the farm where the women are working and that is where we all eat our yam or plantain with red oil. This was usually my breakfast and every one elses’. When you are  through with food you then go back and start pouring your rubber into a certain bucket. If you want to put timing to it may be by 7:00am we would have finished all those things and that is when we can go home, take your bath and go to school. My grandmother was so discipline so that despite all these we were usually the first to get to school.
The school was very far from home and we had to treck. So, I had a grandmother, who was very discipline, she was always very firm with punctuality. I took that with me till today; there is nobody that grew up with my grandmother that won’t be punctual. She was very strict.
Although, she was not educated, she ensures that I took my schooling seriously. If the Headmaster reports you to her that you have done anything wrong she will discipline you on her own. So, you have double punishment. She had a very bid cane. I will say God also granted us grace. As young as we were in Primary School we were very competitive in class. I remembered that there were three of us then, one girl, a boy and I, we were the most competitive one in class. One of us will come first, the other second and the last is the third position in the class. We alternated it like that. So, if you came second or third this year, you are determined to come first next year. We always wanted to overthrow the first person. I think it is important that young people should imbibe a healthy competitive spirit. This is essential for achievements and success in life.  All these combined together to help me later in life. I didn’t understand until much later in life that all those things were important. My father who was in the police at the time was very interested in education, although I was living in the village. He would ride to the village every Sunday. He used to come to the village from Sapele. When he comes like that the first thing he wanted to check were my books and all that. There were somethings my grandmother will not understand but he understood them. If I didn’t do well he will report me to my grandmother who would flog me.   So, I had people around me who were very interested in education. The fact that they didn’t have to pay because of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Policy made education paramount in our lives. Later, when I moved to secondary school, my uncle in Lagos was also very interested in education. He took me to Lagos from the Village School and I entered Federal Government College. What we should take from this is that parents should show a lot of interest in their children education. It is not enough to just pay school fees. Both fathers and mothers should show active interest.
·      It’s safe to say that your grandmother played a major role in your education. Was she able to witness some of your Success?
Yes, she is late now but she witnessed the day I become a medical doctor. It was the happiest day in her life, when I became a doctor and I went to the village to see her she said she had been waiting for me. i said why mama? She said when she dies, she believes I will be the one they will call and that I should never put her in a freezer because she is not ice – fish. (laughter)
·      Did you keep that promise?
Of course, we didn’t put her in a freezer she was embalmed. We never took her to the mortuary she didn’t like it.
·      Let us talk about your achievements as Governor. What would you say is your most cherished achievement as Governor of Delta State?
I came to Government at a very turbulent period in the history of Delta state. There have been some disagreements between the various ethnic groups – the Itsekiri, Ijaw and Uroboh. The issue of location and relocation of local Government headquarters sparked off a crisis that culminated into the Niger – Delta Crisis that we are still trying to manage today. Starting from when I was Commissioner. For Health and Secretary to the state Government. I had played a very active role in mediation. As Governor, I even went into the creeks to negotiate with the boys. I had no security aid with me and yet they didn’t harm me. It was risky though but I did that. Although there was a time I almost lost my life. I had gone into the creeks to negotiate with the boys and I was coming out on a boat when I met some heavily harmed soldiers waiting by the shore. They were going to shoot. Although, it had been announced that I was going in there, the Army knew but obviously not all of them was aware and I almost lost my life. I just raised my hands up with the people that went with me. I had no security so It was all Gods mercy on me. I will say my most important achievement was conflicts resolution, management and peacekeeping and it is still ongoing.
·      So, why are you defecting to APC?
I decided to join the ruling party because of President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s effort in tackling the crisis in Niger Delta region. This administration is a departure from the past when the military used to harass our people with their might and power.  The Buhari administration has embarked on various engagements processes that have led to agreements and brought real hope to the people of the Niger Delta. This approach by the APC-led federal government has pointed us in a direction that is progressive and developmental. This is what we can build on.  It is a major achievement of the Buhari government that I want to follow up. This why I want to work with that party. Politics is about service to the people.


        

          
How I nearly lost My Life in the Creeks -Emmanuel Uduaghan How I nearly lost My Life in the Creeks -Emmanuel Uduaghan Reviewed by Lorine Wyman on November 21, 2018 Rating: 5

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