We are privatizing Asaba  airport – Gov Okowa

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The Executive  Governor of Delta State, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa hosted members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors during the 14th All Editors’ Conference in Asaba, Delta state last week. During the executive session of the conference, Editors asked him few questions about corporate governance, his style of leadership, 2019 general elections and roles of the Independent  National  Electoral Commission (INEC) in local government elections. The Publisher / Editor-in-Chief of Nigerian NewsDirect Dr Samuel Ibiyemi participated in the executive session whereby Dr Okowa explained reasons of being confident to win re-election in 2019. Okowa  also explained among others what he has done to improve revenue generation, upgrade Asaba Airport downgraded by the federal government before his resumption in 2015 and roles of the media. Excerpts.

Your Excellency Sir, the state of traffic of flight to Asaba has been of worry for some years, what are the effort your government is putting in place to rehabilitate the structure and how can Asaba be a hub?

I want to talk about the traffic of flight to Asaba. It’s unfortunate, if you have been here about five to six years ago when they first started. Asaba was already becoming a hub but unfortunately, the runway was not properly constructed and it got to a stage where the airport had to be downgraded to take only Dash 8-Q 400 aircraft or its equivalent until all the – safety  issues were resolved and that had a very bad impact on Delta state.

A lot of Airlines pulled out to the extent that we had just Aero Contractors  coming with one flight and Overland Airways.

The previous government one week to the end of their tenure actually awarded the contract to a company called ULO Consultants to reconstruct the runway and to do other  ancillary things. We had to keep on that contract but got frustrated along the line because it was already awarded. By God’s grace, we were able to excuse ourselves off that contract after two years and we brought Setraco Nigeria Limited to take over the contract.

This was in November, December 2017 and we thank God Setraco is right on time. The runway is in perfect shape and fully constructed. We are doing the air field lighting system and a lot of other things including the fencing of the airport. I think we are doing quite well.

About two  weeks ago, we got an upgrade now to D6. It means aircraft up to Boeing 737 can come into the airport. This week, Air Peace Airline  has started coming into Asaba Airport. We are looking forward to having jet CR900 of Air Peace at Asaba Airport. By the end of the month, we are hoping that the Boeing 737 will start coming and they are already talking with us on the need to use Asaba as a hub because we know the closeness of this airport to Onitsha.

It’s actually the closest airport to Awka and a whole lot of places, obviously it’s going to be a hub. However, we  also understand that as a State government we do not believe that it is best to run the airport.

So, we have gotten technical advisers and we have  gone through a lot of  stages and we are now moving into privatizing  or commercializing the airport.Recently, after a lot of work has been done, we have had sessions  with interested investors. We have now published for those investors to bid  for various aspects of the airport to further develop it to a cargo airport and to further develop it to have other systems including hotels and other things that is required in the airport including hangars for the repair of aircraft. We are hoping that with the interest that has been shown by a lot of people, we will be able to commercialize the airport and get the private sector to truly run the airport. We believe that, it is the way to go because if we remain as the Organisation to run the place we do not believe that government can run it efficiently the way it ought to be run. We are very certain that by God’s grace in another few months, Asaba is obviously going to be a hub.

Sir, do you think INEC should take up the handling of Local Government elections and what favorable conditions can be in place for the media during election?

On the Local government election, it’s unfortunate that we are where we are in Nigeria at the moment concerning Local government elections. From the beginning, it’s been faulty, the whole process is faulty, I’m one of those that believes that during the constitutional amendments while I was in the senate, I actually voted for a situation where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be allowed to conduct Local government elections. However, I believe that most of my colleagues will not share that view.

I think that because of the way politics is structured in Nigeria as at today, as long as we leave Local government election with the state government, the fact is that the opposition parties will not want to commit their funding or participate fully in such elections. This is because they would rather just pay lip service to the election; they don’t really come out to campaign. So, at the end you find that political party of the Governor usually wins landslide because the opposition parties are not ready to compete or campaign because they would not trust the system.

We have not gotten to a stage where that level of trust is built in such a manner that we can have competitive government council elections conducted by the state electoral commission. So, I think until we have gotten to that stage of polity where we can trust the electoral system, it may best be that the local government elections should ordinarily be conducted by INEC as it was done in the past and where we have competitiveness.

How will state governors create favorable conditions for the media during the 2019 general elections?

Creating favourable conditions for media in elections, I do not know how to respond to that but I believe the media has a lot to do. Our electioneering process in this country is still growing.

There is a lot that is wrong until we address all the issues. Even when you tell me that a candidate can afford to spend N5 billon on an election with the current legislation that is coming in. If someone is going to spend N1 billion as Governor coming into the office, after that election, how do you expect to have process of integrity in governance? It’s a problem and the Nigerian system is such that the electorate is waiting to receive something before they go to vote. Even  when they are with you, they still want to receive something, no matter how little and the question is ” the money given, will it have an impact on their life?” Definitely NO. It cannot have an impact on that life but it has been a systemic thing within us as a Nation. We need to discuss that and find ways to fight it. Who is going to help us to carry on this education in such a way that the people will listen?  It is the Press because if the politician comes in to talk about it they say “This one no ready” in their usual language. So, there’s a lot for the press to do.

Will the State allow an opponent use a State media?

In Delta State we allow opponent to use the state media as long as the opponent is able to pay, it is a commercial thing. We do not stop people. If you walk into the Government house, the All Progressives Congress (APC) office is almost next to the gate of Government House. Sometimes, I begin to feel whether that was deliberate but when it started; I did not have anything against it. This is because the competition is on the field as well as the campaign to tell the people what we have done.

Many people would have stopped it, but I did not because I do not believe that is the way politics should be. I do not believe in bitterness in politics. I am confident enough that within the very challenging times that we have found ourselves, I have related well enough with a lot of people.

I have been able to meet up with a lot of promises. Could we have done better? Yes we would have if the economy was what we anticipated it to be from the beginning.

Everybody knows that the first two years of this administration both at National and State level has been very challenging but within the limit of things we have received, we are confident enough to talk to our people. That is why as a Governor, I have been able to move around to have town hall meetings to ask questions, to allow people to ask questions, to inform people about what I have done, to share our ideas and also allow them to make input into the budgeting system.

It is the first time we take all manners of questions and we are able to explain to them what we have done and why we have not been able to do a few thing. I believe that is the way politics should actually be.

What is your government doing to improve the rate of internally generated revenue (IGR)?

In terms of Internal revenue generation, when we came in because of the downturn in the economy, our entire revenue has gone really low but we have been able to improve our internally generated revenue from below where we met it in 2016 when things were very bad, below N30 billion. However, by last year, we were able to achieve N51billion as a state.

We have actually achieved over 50per cent increment in our internally generated revenue and we are hoping that we are going to bring a lot of people and organisations into the tax bracket. But we have been very careful knowing that the economy has directly been impacted negatively on most Deltans.

So, we do not also want to overtax them because we will be driving more people into poverty line. And what we try to do now giving an example, of the informal sector, the ordinary market woman who is trading is meant to pay what you call lump-sum tax or commission tax, the amount of money they pay is N1000  in a month. But we cannot take N1000 at a time; we take it on a basis of about N50 daily for about 4-5 days in a month. We convert that tax collected into a health insurance scheme for them. So, it is not about taxation, they are able to pay and they are happy paying and that is the way we encourage them to be part of what is going on.

TO BE Continued.

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