ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, SENATOR, DR IFEANYI OKOWA, GOVERNOR OF DELTA STATE, AT THE 5TH NATIONAL QUADRENNIAL DELEGATES CONFERENCE OF THE NATIONAL UNION OF CIVIL ENGINEERING CONSTRUCTION, FURNITURE AND WOOD WORKERS ON THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017, AT GRAND HOTEL, ASABA.
His Excellency, Barrister Kingsley Burutu Otuaro,
the Deputy Governor,
HON. Members, Delta State House of Assembly,
Members of the State Executive Council,
The Secretary to the State Government,
The Head of Service,
The Chief of Staff,
The Senior Political Adviser,
Top Government Functionaries
Your Royal Highnesses,
My Lord, Spiritual and Temporal,
Gentlemen of the Press,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am pleased to welcome you to Asaba for the 5th National Quadrennial Delegates Conference of your union. It is particularly gratifying to note that this conference is taking place just six months after your National Executive Council Meeting was held in this same venue. That can only mean one thing; your national executives must have enjoyed their stay to have decided to hold this conference here.
- Indeed, those of you visiting Delta State for the first time will discover that Delta State abounds with immense tourism potentials. Delta State boasts of several tourist attractions such as beaches, resorts, gardens, museums, traditional festivals, and historical monuments. Here in Asaba and environs, we have the Landers Brothers Anchorage, The Residency (first headquarters of the Royal Niger Company) craft centres, Ogbeke Square and Okpuzu Fall in Ibusa. So get to know a little more of Nigeria’s tourist potential and rich cultural heritage by taking the time to visit any of these tourist attractions before you leave town.
- I am not surprised at the theme you have chosen for this Conference: “Economic Woes: What strategies for Nigeria and Trade Unions?” The current economic recession is what is on every Nigerian’s mind; it is the major topic at home, offices, public places and even in the corridors of power. And for good reason. The naira is on a free fall, inflation is spiralling out of control, and the prices of goods and services are going beyond the reach of the average Nigerian.
- The middle class is almost non-existent; thousands of workers have been laid off and companies are shutting down. Many Nigerian students studying abroad are stranded as a result of foreign exchange scarcity and, even back home, many others have dropped out of school because of the inability of their parents to pay their school fees. Indeed, the times are hard; it does not take a rocket scientist to know that hunger and poverty are ravaging the land.
- Conventional wisdom has taught us that necessity is the mother of invention. The need for vision, foresight, strategic planning, innovation and creativity has never been more compelling than it is today. The situation in our country calls for visionary leadership at all levels of government. Times like this require men of vision, courage and character who will inspire hope and release the creative energies of the people by their commitment to good governance, transparency and accountability.
- In Delta, we have adopted a Medium Term Economic Development Plan (2016-2019), a policy document that encapsulates seven key strategic programmes in line with our vision of prosperity for all Deltans. It is driven by fiscal discipline and prudent management of resources. We believe that to succeed as a State, we must cut unnecessary waste and keep a tight lid on government spending. As long as we spend more than we earn as a people, we will continue to sink deeper into the hole of economic recession.
- Central to the effective implementation of our Development Plan is the creation of Public-Private Partnership models to accelerate infrastructural development, actualise critical investments and achieve sustainable economic growth. One of the biggest gains we have made as a result is that many local and private investors have keyed into our vision and are willing to invest in Delta State. To date, we have signed several Memoranda of Understanding with prospective investors in public infrastructure, energy, housing, water resources and health.
- It goes without saying that Public Private Partnership is critical to overcoming the current economic crisis and creating opportunities for growth and prosperity. The private sector has the funds to invest but they will only bring their money if the investment climate is conducive, policies are well defined and clearly understood, there is respect for sanctity of contracts, and they have confidence in the economic policies of the government of the day
- Another strategy to exit out of our current economic woes is to give serious attention to economic diversification through stimulating and boosting agricultural production and developing agro-businesses/agro-industries. By now the folly in running a mono product economy should be clear to all and sundry. Even though oil currently is the country’s major foreign exchange earner, it contributes only 15% of our GDP. The implication of that is that Nigeria has vast, untapped non-oil sources with the potential of earning huge foreign exchange for the country if properly harnessed and maximally exploited. It is time we stop paying lip service to the issue of economic diversification.
- In Delta State we have set ourselves the target of making agriculture the major growth driver.Through our Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP) and Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP), we are building capacity for our farmers and agro-processors by resourcing them with improved technologies, efficient inputs and marketing support to trigger high yields, ensure profitability and create jobs. In particular, through YAGEP we are raising a generation of young, dynamic agricultural entrepreneurs as evidenced by the array of youth-based farm clusters throughout the State. We are also upgrading the skills and building the entrepreneurship spirit in our youths through the Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP). We have trained and equipped over 2,000 youths through our Job Creation Scheme, while over 4,000 have been trained in our vocational centres since June 2015.
- In our present situation, labour unions should see themselves as partners with the government in stimulating economic growth and prosperity. For that to happen, it is my considered view that union members generally need a mind shift. At the moment their preoccupation seems to be only with higher wages and better conditions of service. While I concede on the need for better working conditions, I am also persuaded that this will be made easier if workers pay greater attention to upgrading their skills, show more commitment to their work and enhance their productivity.
- I believe that the infrastructure deficit in our country offers a glorious opportunity to members of your union to be sought after. I will end this address with a charge I made to your national executive in September last year.
- “Your Union needs to urgently address the issue of poor workmanship that is bedevilling the construction and building industry. The quality of work has, no doubt, improved considerably, but it is also true that huge investments in the sector have been seriously undermined through sub-standard jobs, unethical conduct and sharp practices by some bad eggs in the industry.
- “I, therefore, urge you to push for appropriate legislation that will regulate the training, licensing, hiring and compensation of workers in the construction and building industry. That is the way to fish out the bad eggs, and enthrone standard and excellence in the industry. The construction and building industry is so strategic that it cannot be left to every Tom, Dick and Harry.
- “As more and more multinationals seek ways to globalise their operations by establishing manufacturing outlets abroad, they will require competent labour in their host countries. I, therefore, urge you to seek ways to update and upgrade the knowledge and skills of your members on a continual basis.”
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is on this note that I now declare this conference open, and wish you fruitful deliberations.
- I thank you for your time and attention.
- God bless you.
Office of the Governor