Okowa, Successor and Election Blues
With barely a year to go, this is the period footballers would describe as injury time. It is a time when players get desperate to score goals and change the narrative of the game. That is perhaps the same approach the Delta State governor, Dr Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa is applying to the governance of Delta State. He is a system personality, having been in and out of government for years. Once, he was a local Government Chairman in his native Ika North-East Local Government Area. He had been a commissioner of Health, a Secretary to the State Government (SSG), a senator and now a governor, serving out his second term. There were plans for him to join the presidential race, but that got stopped, for now.
By May 29, next year, he would have served out his second term as governor of Delta State. It is natural and normal for him to be concerned about who succeeds him. But Okowa often feigns indifference on this crucial issue. At most public ceremonies, he’d claim that whoever will succeed him is in the hands and workings of God. While he puts up this “God-knows” approach, he is busy working on the system to produce his chosen favourite, a certain Sheriff Oborevwori, the sitting Speaker of the State House Assembly.
Foggy Bank Loans
Recent revelation will explain why Okowa will be more disposed to an Oborevwori than any other person. Reason: Oborevwori has long been the required ally, if not accomplice, in the several financial deals and dealings of the state. As the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, the Oborevwori has been like a legislative stooge of the governor, who, like a pawn on a chess board, is moved anyhow to achieve an intent. By Oborevwori’s subservient disposition, the state House of Assembly is practically in the pocket of the Governor. Were it not so, an Assembly alive to its work and worth will not approve a set of three fat loans in just five months for purposes that are as foggy as harmattan haze.
On Tuesday December 14, the State House of Assembly approved a loan request of N20 billion from Fidelity Bank. The claim is that it will finance the five percent equity of the state in a UTM Offshore Liquefied Natural Floating gas project. This is suspicious. The said company is not only a novice in such a project, the entire ownership structure is itself foggy. The said five percent may have been the equity of an individual, not a state. We have had an example like that with the Midwestern Oil and Gas, under the administration of Governor James Ibori. Who are the owners of the so-called UTM offshore Gas project? Were Deltans told? There are no details and explanations. Even the House of Assembly members do not understand the “coded” intent of the loan, yet, pronto, they approved it.
Two months after, on Tuesday February 15, 2022, (day after St Valentine celebration), Okowa came again with another loan request, this time, N12 billion from Zenith Bank Plc. And without a debate or critical thinking, like a people under fetish manipulation, the House of Assembly approved the loan. The explanation is that the loan will be used to pay contractors of different projects in the state. Really? Three months after, how many such contractors have been paid in the state? Yet, they call him Roadmaster. Hey, where are the roads?
And cashing in on the ease of approval, the governor came, yet again, this time for the final hit: a loan request of N150 billion! Yes, N150 billion! Again, without a debate of any sort or inquisition, the House of Assembly, on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, approved the loan with a voice vote. Have you noticed that all the loans were approved on Tuesdays?
This time, the narrative behind the loan is that some N20 billion will be used to off-set pension funds, and another N10 billion will be given as grant to the “Bureau of Local Governments” (whatever that means) to reduce “whatever outstanding and negative impacts they have…”, according to the state Finance Commissioner, Fidelis Tilije,…. What does all that mean?
Do we need to borrow money to pay pension arrears? Is it not a contributory pension scheme? Where is the part the workers contributed while in service? Is it for the government’s part that the loan is being sought?
Many pensioners in Delta have been languishing in poverty and needless difficulty. Many have even died. For more than seven years, pensioners have not been paid a dime. But Okowa pays out billions every month to the nearly 3000 Personal Assistants (PAs) and Special Assistants (SAs) he appointed, many of whom he neither knows nor sees. One of them, a young kinsman of the governor, has literally become the de facto governor claiming and exercising so much power, and lately said to be acquiring lots of prized properties in Asaba, Agbor and Lagos. Majority of the aides are completely idle as they do not even have any office anywhere, yet they get paid heavily every month. But the senior citizens who laboured to serve and set up the state are left to die in penury and anguish.
Assuming all the above reasons are legitimate and deserving, that will be N30 billion. Okowa will be left with N120 billion out of the N150 billion. So, what will this be meant for? Will it be for the same contractors for whom N20 billion had been borrowed last February? Pray, where are these so-called projects in the state? I was in Delta State earlier this month. The only thing noticed in Asaba, the state capital, is the very well done drainage system that should stem the malaise of flooding in the state capital. In many other parts of the state, nothing is happening anywhere.
The 14-Year-Old Road Project
Almost like the Lagos-Ibadan dualization road project which every succeeding federal government claims to be diverting loans and grants to its execution, the Delta State government has got its own equivalent of Lagos-Ibadan Express road construction project.
The Ughelli-Asaba road project which was awarded on November 14, 2008 at the initial cost of N51.3 billion, has become a faithful cash cow from which every succeeding government in Delta State must “cash out”. It seems it is now the turn of Gov Okowa. Were it not so, normal human beings would wonder why 14 years after, a 162.27-kilometer road stretch will remain uncompleted in a top oil-producing state. Fourteen years on one road! Haba! Even if the state government is only able to finance one kilometer of the road work in one month, it would have long finished the road. But here we are, seeking to plunge N120 billion into a project that was initially awarded for N51.3 billion! Those who collected government money and abandoned the projects are neither being prosecuted nor in jail. Some of them are still friends of the occupiers of the Government House. Even now, the road will still not be completed, with or without the loan. The heist continues unabashed.
The lousy argument of the state government is that the loan has to be taken now so contractors can be mobilized to site before the rains fully come. Really? They talk as if we are all half-brained people. Okowa has been in office for nearly seven years now. Why is this thought of completing the legendary Ughelli-Asaba road occurring to him only in the twilight of his leaving office?
The so-called loan, described as “bridging finance” from Zenith Bank (owned by Okowa’s kinsman), is taken in lieu of the N270.6 billion the federal government is owing the state from over-charged 13% derivation funds for oil-producing states. The FG has been owing this money for ten years. What is the guarantee that the Buhari administration will regain its economic gait to be able to pay the debt in these “hard times”? If the FG couldn’t pay ten years ago, is it now that the debt will be paid? If the state defaults in repaying Zenith Bank as at when due, what are the fines and other implications? What is the interest charged on this loan? What are the terms and conditions of the loan? Our Honourable(?) lawmakers did not consider anything, fiam, they chorused a yeaaaaaaa, like a people seized by opium concentrate.
N182 Billion loan in five months, at the dawn of electioneering season! We do not need political soothsayers to tell us that most of the loan will be used both for politics and illegitimate “sign-off benefits”
A New Sheriff Cometh?
The Speaker of the State Assembly is Hon Sheriff Oborevwori. He appears to be tipped to succeed Gov Okowa. Apart from the sickening collaboration with Okowa on the ruinous financial deals in the state, one other sustaining credential of this sheriff is that he has “street integrity”. What does that mean? It is not more than a decorated euphemism for a tout. The Oborervwori is said to have been the Man Friday to the late Friday Ani, who died in a plane crash years ago. The Ani himself was a near terror star in his time, as he was a thorn in the flesh of security operatives as well as the government of James Ibori. At his death, Oborevwori ascended and found his way into politics and then elective position, which today has placed him as Speaker of the House of Assembly.
In the years he has presided over the state as the Speaker, we cannot remember any outstanding piece of legislation from the House. With him, there are no memorable quotable quotes. All is grist in his mill. But the same weird politicking that pushed him thus far, seems poised to project him to the number one seat of the state.
That he is an appendage of the governor is not hidden. How can a responsible House of Assembly, whose main duty is to ensure “check and balance” grant everything the governor asks for—be it wise or foolish? To this Sheriff, everything is politics and politics is everything. Such a mindset is dangerous.
Here is a man whose credentials have been a huge subject of controversy.
I care little about that. What else is in his profile that qualifies him to be a Delta state governor? Have we degenerated that low as a people?
A Messy Nursing Exam
Some two months or so ago, the state government conducted a state-wide exam to admit students into the state’s Nursing schools. It was competitive. But it soon became an avenue for corruption. Government officials were falling over themselves to fight for candidates whom they gave varying bills to get assisted in gaining admission. This is also what happens during employment opportunities. Young graduates literally buy employment letters. Many of the officials found to have compromised themselves in the Nursing School Exam, had actually sent their bank account details to the candidates for payments. The monies paid were found in several accounts of government officials. There was a threat to deal with the situation. As is often the case, that was the end of the matter. Nothing happened thereafter. Or so it seemed. It became an admission for the “connected”, not the qualified. How can we grow with a system like that?
Three Universities at a Go
In March last year, the state government announced the establishment of three universities at the same time, having secured the nod of the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC). They are the Dennis Osadebey University, Asaba, University of Delta, Agbor and Delta State University of Science and Technology, Ozoro.
Although many had hailed the courage and the initiative, some others are worried that establishing three universities at the same time in a state that already had its own state University (Delta State University, Abraka), plus a College of Education (in Warri), Polytechnic in Oghara.
While it looked good and great on the surface, it is tasking for a state government. Yes, education is key, but it is more important to provide quality education and work out ways that can meaningfully engage the products of the schools. It is not enough establishing schools all over the place, a thought must be spared on where the products can work. Where are the companies and establishments that can employ these products? If less-endowed states like Akwa-Ibom and Cross River can establish industries, companies and other going concerns that can provide job opportunities to young graduates, where are the Delta equivalents of these companies? Unless a thought is spared towards this, education will soon be seen by the youth as a frustration.