Recently, a prominent politician from Delta State met with a former Governor in the South-south geopolitical region. The Governor had refused to have audience with this politician who was on a fence mending mission; until the kind intervention of a mutual friend who pleaded with the ex-governor to have a rethink. During the meeting, the former Governor berated the politician for betraying him by not supporting Senator Ifeanyi Okowa’s governorship bid. “Do you now see?” the ex-governor lashed out.
“Nobody saw this coming, but if your candidate had won do you think he would have been able to manage and stabilise the State with the current economic crisis in the country?”
This same sentiment is one that has been expressed by friends and foes alike. Even his most rabid critics would concede that Delta needed Governor Okowa for a time such as this. His broad based experience in legislative and executive functions, administrative acumen, political savvy and disciplined work ethic have greatly helped to steer the ship of State aright in these turbulent time.
Governor Okowa is calm, resolute, and meticulous. He is very calculating and cannot be stampeded into hasty decisions.
Upon assumption of office, he met a wage bill of N7.4b, while the monthly allocation from FAAC stood at N6.8b. In the months following, the monthly allocation dropped to as low as N3b following the resumption of pipeline bombings by the Niger Delta Militants. Meanwhile, the Internally Generated Revenue hovers between N2b-N3b. Even though the State has been able to reduce the wage bill to N6.8b as a result of the on-going biometric exercise, it is nothing short of a miracle that the Okowa-led government does not owe civil servants salaries.
In addition, the Governor is living up to his traditional title of Ekwueme (meaning promise keeper). Dr Okowa rode into Unity House, Asaba, with the bold promise of prosperity for all predicated on a five-point agenda that embodies policy initiatives in job creation, peace building, agriculture, health, education and infrastructure development. In less than two years of his first term, Delta State can boast of huge achievements in the various sectors as promised. Under the Job Creation Scheme, the administration has been tackling the problem of graduate youth unemployment through its Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP). In the 2015 cycle of these programmes, 1, 283 youths were trained and established in their choice enterprises.
Mr Samuel Idijighere Ochuko is one of them. He was trained as a fashion designer. Hear him. “After I received my starter pack and that wonderful, surprising cash, I went straight to establish my business in Warri. I printed complimentary cards and shared them to anyone I saw wearing a suit with an opening at the back. I told them I could make something better than the one they were wearing. Not too long, calls started coming in and, to the glory of God, as many of them that came to me, I satisfied them.
“A man recommended me to a Nigerian who lives in the United Kingdom, who then recommended me to others. As I speak to you now, I have four customers patronizing me from the UK. One of them recommended me to the Vice Chancellor of the Delta State University. I now make his clothes. Last week, three schools gave me a contract to sew their school uniforms.’’
Bradouyai Augustine, a native of Burutu Local Government Area had this to say. “I graduated in 2010 and I have been jobless since then. I came across this programme and keyed into it by going for fashion designing and tailoring because I have passion for fashion. Thereafter, I was empowered to start my own business. To God be the glory, my business is doing very well. During the six-month training, we were paid monthly. With that money I was able to register my business with the Corporate Affairs Commission. I have also opened an account with First Bank. I have my business running in Asaba. Presently, I am working on my own label. This is an initiative that makes one work for oneself without pressure from a boss.”
There are just two of scores of testimonies that space would not permit me to record here. But the point is Governor Okowa has kept faith with the people of Delta that overwhelmingly voted him into office. Overall, 17,173 private sector jobs were created through initiatives, programmes and activities of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government in Okowa’s first year in office. In education, he has rehabilitated, reconstructed and equipped three technical colleges in Ofagbe, Sapele and Agbor. More are currently undergoing similar work. With the establishment of the Delta State Contributory Health Commission, Delta became the first State in the Federation to launch the Universal Health Insurance Scheme.
Under Okowa, economic diversification is well and truly on track. As the Governor noted while presenting the 2017 Budget of Fiscal Consolidation and Steady Progress, “the agricultural and agribusiness development agenda is being implemented through a variety of value chain support measures under the Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP). The measures include the provision of extension services, improved technologies and efficient farm inputs to boost farmers’ productivity, outputs and incomes.”
It is in the area of infrastructure development that Okowa has astounded all. Despite the lean purse of the State, the administration constructed and completed 55 road projects (including 113 km of concrete lined drains) in the first year. Between June 2016 and now, contract for the construction of a further 29 roads have been awarded. His Royal Majesty, the Orodje of Okpe, best captured this uncommon feat by describing the Governor as “a good craftsman” because “in spite of the fact that the wood is bent, he has been able to straighten it.”
It is, therefore, not surprising that Governor Okowa’s profile is on the rise. In November 2015, he was the Keynote Speaker at Africa Industrialisation Day at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Some months ago, he was voted the fourth best performing governor in the country through an online poll conducted by Africa Leadership magazine. He came behind only Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos), Nyesom Wike (Rivers) and Willie Obiano (Anambra). In September this year, he was the Keynote Speaker at the first ever Dialogue with Public Policy Makers jointly organised by Lagos Business School and Nigeria Economic Summit Group.
Governor Okowa’s determination to cut unnecessary waste and keep government spending under control has no doubt promoted fiscal discipline and accountability. But I must hasten to add that it has not gone down well with a tiny minority who are not happy that there is no free money to throw around anymore. These selfish, self-centred and self-seeking individuals will stop at nothing to muddy the waters and cast aspersion on the person of the Governor. But Deltans know better than to be swayed by cheap blackmail and the antics of pen wielding political thugs.
––Ekwugum is Manager, Communications, Government House, Asaba.