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URBAN RENEWAL: My Ministry Is ‘Smartly’ Upgrading Delta— Akpowowo

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Olorogun (Barr) Arthur Akpowowo, Commissioner for Urban Renewal, Delta State

-Urges FG To Intervene In Infrastructural Projects In Delta
-Wants PDP To Shun Imposition Of Candidates For LGA Chairmanship Contest In 2021

Olorogun Arthur Akpowowo is the Honourable Commissioner for Urban Renewal, Delta State.
In this exclusive interview, he spoke about his goals as Commissioner for Urban Renewal and some of his achievements so far, as he urged Deltans to contribute their own quota towards creating ‘Smart Cities’ that are resilient and habitable for people to dwell in.
Also, being a grassroot politician, he gave his perspective on the selection of candidates by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) that will fly the party’s flag in the forthcoming local government area elections across the state in 2021.
Read on!

Let’s meet you?
My name is Olorogun Arthur Akpowowo Esq., the Honourable Commissioner for Urban Renewal, Delta State.

How has the journey been in the newly created Urban Renewal portfolio?
It is a position that is not actually new but relatively new because it was created in 2016. I’m the 4th commissioner in that ministry. In the first tenure of the governor, there were three (3) commissioners that served there before I came on board in the second tenure. The ministry was created in 2016. Hence, it is relatively new. We are trying our best to take the ministry from where we met it to the next level; not the next level of APC, but in terms of improving on what the ministry was doing before we came onboard and the testimonies are there for people to see. During the last (8) months that we came onboard, we have tried to renew our urban centers and even improve on our rural areas because we believe that urbanization is a great problem, and what causes urbanization is when you concentrate on cities, what we call urban centers and you leave the rural areas. These will result to an urban drift that will overstretch our facilities and if not well managed the urban cities will turn into slumps because there will be over population. The outcome will be an overstretching of facilities and infrastructure. So, we are trying to open up the rural areas as well so that people can remain in their area and try to provide everything for them that are needed to live in a comfortable environment. What we have been doing for the past 8 months is that we have been stretching ourselves to ensure we improve on what we met on ground.

Would you go further by pinpointing any of such projects?
When I came, I met some ongoing projects in terms of bridges and roads. A lot of people don’t know that the ministry has done quite well. For example, the 21km Sekebolu-Obotebo-Ogulagha Road commissioned in 2019 by Vice President, Prof. Osibanjo was done before my appointment. 2019 budget execution so far include Ikromoku Street, Ikraghwa Street, Eku, both 100 percent completed. Others are Umukwata-Unor-Obinomba Road, Ukwuani 100 percent completed. The list also includes Aboh Township road, Aboh 100 percent completed; Koka Interchange Park, Asaba (completed), Water Board Road with drains Owa-Ekei, a 3km road also completed; Prof. Tonukari Stret, Isiokolo; Arigbodi Street, Isiokolo; Omojiriemu Street, Isiokolo all completed. Meanwhile, there are many other ongoing projects. As we speak, we are working in Oha, Orerokpe, Oviore road where you have that old Oha Bridge. We are almost completing the bridge. We are working in Abor, Orerokpe, Bomadi and also in Ethiope East. We have three (3) roads that are ongoing at Isiokolo. We have others going on in Eku. These are perceived rural areas that we are trying to put in order in terms of road projects. We are revamping our urban centres. We have taking up a project which is called Koka improvement at Asaba here. You will recall that Koka as at last year is a slum smelling with fishes inside the center of the town and many more. To a great extent based on the available resources which we have in our budgets because government policies and programmes are driven by budgets, we can say with all modesty that we are doing our best. We have done well, but we are not there yet. Subsequently, as we are moving into the second year of His Excellency, we ought to do more. Except for this Coronavirus that has crumbled our resources. You now know, and don’t need to be told, that the price of crude oil has dropped and nothing much accrues to states and even the federal government keeps on borrowing. So, the present situation will have some effects on our goals as a ministry and a government.
But we also pray that this Coronavirus is a passing phase and we hope that oil price will revamp. If there are resources, we have no doubt that the governor will leave a mark when leaving office.

Can you specify the demarcating line between Urban Renewal and the responsibilities of the Commissioner for Works especially since you talked about so many ongoing road projects under your ministry?
The Ministry of Works does more of interstate and intercity roads. We try to work within the urban cities and within towns. We are not involved in tarring road from here to Agbor or from Asaba to Ughelli. That is what the Ministry of Works is doing. Ours is to intervene in the urban centres and towns. So that is what we are doing. We are not in any way in clash with the Ministry of Works.

So what is your target and goal; at the end of the day, how would your ministry have impacted Deltans?
The target of Urban Renewal Ministry is to create resilient cities. We have cities that are not fit for human inhabitation. Many persons live in slumps. So, slump upgrade is one of our missions. You will agree with me that people can only stay in these slums areas when they have been upgraded to modern urban areas.
Like Ovouzorie Macaulay, the Director, Warri-Uvwie and Environs Special Area Development Agency said Warri is a ghetto where you have faeces flowing through canals in front of your house. Those are the slums that we intend to upgrade and make habitable with needed infrastructure; that is to create cities that humans can stay and to create a conducive environment for cities to be able to thrive.

How have you been able to work with other competing ministries? Like you just talked about Ovuozorie Macaulay who is now on almost a similar mission to yours?
His Excellency, in his own wisdom, created the Urban Renewal Ministry as an intervention ministry. Why I said intervention ministry is because we are into so many things like beautification and opening of roads, bridges. Urbanization or urban renewal means upgrade of slums. We are to come up with projects that will bring our cities to world standard. In the cause of the ministry not sufficiently doing those things, he felt they should create Asaba Capital Development Agency. And you know in Delta we are multi-ethnic, multi-lingua and distinct in our own way. They were also crying for such developments in Warri. We are all working towards the good of the state and serving the same principal. Our duty is to make sure that whatever we are given we deliver successfully and adequately on them. It will end up putting the name of the governor in gold at his exit. So we are working closely with every other sister agency. You know what ministry stands for- ministry covers the whole of the state. You know what agencies stand for. But we are working with them and we will partner with them, so that they do the right thing. My ministry is in charge of urban space management. There is no space in this state that should be delved into without drawing the attention of my ministry. We are supposed to work with other ministries and determine what fits a place. To that extent we are partnering with agencies that are doing something similar to what we are doing. We also work effectively with other ministries. The whole essence is that we are serving a boss, our governor and we are eager to make sure that he ends well as the governor of the state and that our cities, town and the state is developed.

How is your ministry planning to tackle the challenge of inadequate power supply because without electricity the resilient cities you talked about will remain a mere wish?
Electricity like you know has been privatized by the federal government. There is what we call generation, transmission and distribution. All these have been privatized by the federal government. The state has no control, not even the federal government. It is now a private issue. It is a concern to every Nigerian that there is no power. Some persons from my community have told me that you are part of government, give us light. I tell them that power is in the exclusive list and under the jurisdiction of the federal government. For all these years, the state government has been supportive. BDEC is in charge in our area here and is doing business with it. So if you see the government providing electricity, it is as a result of support to the citizens. It is a concern to every Nigerian that our power is below what only Lagos as a whole can consume. What we have today is less than 3, 000 megawatts.
You know when Jonathan was there he built a lot of stations which increased our power generation to about 5, 000 megawatts. But now, we have less than 3, 000 or thereabout. So we have a shortfall in power generation, transmission and even as well as distribution.
Electricity is not the responsibility of the state. Whatever the state is doing now is to support and complement BDEC. So, we have the Ministry of Power and Energy, for example, when I was with my colleagues I said we need transformer in XYZ community. But the funds are not there. The budget for this year was a little bit less than 500 Billion Naira. But, today, it has been reduced facing the reality and we reduced that to 200 billion, which means about 50 percent of the budget was cut off. I am aware that there is provision for transformers and all that to help shore up light. It is meant to be a support and not the responsibility of the state.

You have gone round the state and seen several ghettos and slums. What challenges have you so far faced as you go around carrying out the task of your portfolio?
First, the challenges we have is that people seem to leave everything to government; people believe that government are to do everything. It’s not going to be possible at all. I was with the Director General of Asaba Capital Development Agency the other day when we went out for inspection together and I told her that those who have properties along the road from the airport to the head bridge should be made to fence their land and in between their land to the road to also plant greens such as field and flowers on their own. So that as you are approaching Asaba from Agbor, you see greens on both sides. If the state government was to do this it will cost billions and time. But for individuals that own properties on those roads it won’t cost them much. We can also help them by putting in trees between their flowers to ensure that the place is beautiful. Deltans must learn to make sacrifices so our cities can become resilient. In Lagos there is an area where before you build, you pay for road to a committee. Some of the interlocking tiles you see in Lagos particularly Lekki are paid for by those who are developing properties along those streets. You must pass somewhere to get to your house. So when you pay, they provide the roads for you. So, we should try and become stakeholders in building a resilient society. The government alone cannot do it and if we even wanted to do it the funds are not there. We need to engage our people to start knowing that where you stay you must make it clean and you must provide necessary things to make the environment clean. It does not cost somebody anything to plant a tree in front or at the back of their house. So, I appeal to the people, and we have started going out for sensitization that first if you have a land and you want to fence especially when there is a street by your land, you must provide that C and U shape for people who are driving to drive freely. Some people will just build a house and put the fence as an angle, so when you are driving you will not see the next man coming and it causes accident. We the resident must provide resilient societies for ourselves before the government will come and play a supporting role. If not, we can’t wait for government to develop Sapele to ensure that Sapele is neat, that Agbor is neat and then Ughelli. We have so many cities so we must on our own make our environment neat, we must make it known to people that where you live you have to make habitable. So, if you have a pothole in your area, there is nothing wrong if the people in that area come together put some resources and intervene in such roads before the government will come. Like, for example, government has been tarring roads since the time of Ibori and till date we are still tarring roads. Our current governor is called road master but the list of demands for roads is something we cannot finish in years to come. We need citizens to help maintain those roads. Sometimes you see a road meant for small car will be used also by big trailer carrying heavy content. You see bulldozers and caterpillar plying those roads and as a citizen you don’t show concern because when the road is bad you come to government to complain that the road is bad meanwhile the road is not meant for those vehicles but as citizens if you see things like a big vehicle and trucks it is your responsibility to come out and tell them not to pass that street and remind them that the road is not meant for such kind of vehicle. And that is why the Abraka, Agbor, Eku roads were bad. I asked my welder to make a bar at the hospital end where you have the pastor’s school and even at the entrance of the town so that big trucks will not destroy the roads inside Eku town. They should manage the express way that they normally pass and people should stand their ground to make sure they don’t pass there. At the end of the day we can still ply the road till today because that is the only exit way for people coming from Abraka to be able to go through the town to Warri or Ughelli. But if we had allowed it and did not show concern, that road would have been bad and we would be looking for resources to go and tar that road. We all need to contribute to beautify our state and protect our infrastructure. If the governor provides a drain in front of your house, and when the rain is falling you just go and discharge dirts in the gutter, you are not helping anybody. You are blocking the drain and when water comes you bring in mosquito and start having health challenges.

There is this issue of a major road in Abraka close to the police station junction. That road is bad and of big concern to many. There is also one in Obiaruku too. They are very bad and need urgent repair. Are these of concern to you?
That road is been handled by the Ministry of Works. You know that road is a federal road and His Excellency because of the sufferings of Deltans has directed remedial work be done. You can see that from Warri going to Eku work is ongoing. I saw it last week, I was there too. They have done some part of that road particularly where you have that bad spot in Orerokpe. I am sure those working from Warri to Eku to Orerokpe will continue to Abraka, Obiaruku and then Agbor. I am sure that the parts you mentioned will be worked on. We have also drawn the attention of the federal government to find a way to mobilize contractors there to aid a fast work from Sapele and after Eku, so the federal government should take up their responsibility of proving and repairing their federal road in the state, because for some time, the federal road in the state are bad. There was problem with the road from Warri to Benin; there was also problem from Sapele to Agbor. So, the federal government should rise up to the task. There is another problem from Asaba to Benin through Agbor high way, the roads are getting bad but they are constructing. The Commissioner for Works called me and said he has inspected that project. It will take some time but they will get there. But that is just intervention. Even the Federal government has threatened that they won’t pay state, if they go ahead to repair any federal road and that is not good governance.

I think the Federal Government did that because many times state governments manipulate the figures they spend.
Roads are expensive. I was in NDDC at a time and it is obvious that what they claim they spent is overbloated certain times. If they don’t want the state to repair any road and give them overbloated bills then they should go ahead and repair as fast as they can. The roads are getting bad, they were constructed by PDP-led Olusegun Obasanjo government between 1999 – 2000. So after 20 years, we expect that the APC-led federal government should re-asphalt those roads.

You are the most senior political appointee of your party in Ethiope East. Any comment on the cry of some politicians in Abraka that the chairmanship ticket should be given to someone in Abraka?
My advice to people as a politician, a grassroot politician for that matter who has also shown manifest interest in the affairs of the local government by vying for positions to contribute my own quota to the development of the local government, I know that it is not in the interest of any person to preach sectionalism and division. At the end of the day, you are going to be elected to serve as local government chairman not to serve a particular ward or a community. So for those who are preaching to be supported, because am coming from angle, I think it’s a bad message. And I want to use this opportunity to advise them because as a politician who is on ground they are not helping themselves. You can say I think am the best for the job. If I go in, I will do this or that, and sell yourself – Not preaching sectionalism to anybody. I ran for elections and I told them what I would do. Aspirants should be telling people what they will do, like saying, ‘I will do this for ward 1 and this for ward 2, I will do this for ward 3 whatever I will do for ward one for ward 11’. Those should be the driving force. Not I am from Eku. To me, it is a wrong approach. Bring out yourself if you are interested, send the party manifestos, tell the people what you want to do and that you are the most qualified and the reason why you are the most qualified. Give the people your antecedents and also the small office that you have held before or you even in your own personal capacity and why you are interested in the position and that you will do well.
We want you to send this message to our people. It means you have the mind of excluding some part of the local government if you are preaching sectionalism. So you must be all embracing, every politicians is local but you must position yourself as somebody that is all embracing and for me I have told those who came to consult me to work towards what we call party primaries. To me, I will say, even if I don’t have my way, the authorities must remember that Ethiope East is very peculiar. The people here hate oppression, imposition, very educated and the people are very peculiar. The best way to arrive at a candidate is by election, not selection. That is the best way for us to be knitted together. But beyond, if you impose someone, they will work towards sabotaging the party in 2023.
We don’t want anyone to have something to hold on to. When people say you have not done well. But when you don’t do anything at all you can imagine that. So, my advice to everybody that has come to consult me as one of the leaders of the party, servant of the local government is to reach out to everybody in the local government because the people are going to decide your fate. I have been preaching this gospel locally and statewide for the leaders of the party to see reasons why they need election and not selection. Even if it is not done across board, Ethiope East is very peculiar. There should be free and fair selection and am sure the ones that win will have the support of others. The ones I know are very viable and that is the more reason for an election, not selection for a candidate in the area. This will be a very strong basis to approach 2023.

Do you have any interest in any candidate?
Frankly, no… there is nothing a local government chairman will do for me. There is nothing I need from the council that will make me to manifestly support a candidate. I know about 1, 2, 3, 4 of those contesting that are capable of handling that council and also know people that cannot handle it. But I don’t have interest in anybody because I wish anyone can emerge. My interest is to get the best for the local government.

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