Oborevwori: One Year of Redefining Governance in Delta

Omon-Julius Onabu writes about the art of redefining governance through people-oriented programmes being executed by Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori since assuming office as Delta state Governor about a year ago.

Available statistics show that there are more than 60,000 otherwise valuable, infrastructural projects in Nigeria that are uncompleted or abandoned, with humongous financial and economic implications.

While some of these highly desirable projects, conceived with the objective of bringing certain yawning socio-economic gaps at different levels, are federal government projects, many others were initiated and designed by state governments and even local governments.

Some mind-blowing deserted federal projects and rendered white elephants and utterly useless to the Nigerian economy and the people – the intended ultimate beneficiaries of the projects – include the Ajaokuta Steel Mills, the Olokola LNG terminal, the Abuja CCTV project, the Nigeria Air carrier project, the Mabilla Hydro Power Plant, the Ovwian-Aladja Steel Company (DSC) in Delta State and the Brass LNG project.

Only recently, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the major interventionist agency established for the oil-rich region in year 2000 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, admitted that it had more than 950 abandoned projects in one of the nine states under its jurisdiction alone!

Even more worrisome is the fact that trillions of naira had been sunk into these uncompleted and non-functional projects. Perhaps, these projects, which have become white elephants and environmental eyesores, are palpable tell tales of monumental corruption and unaccountability in Nigeria. According to the Chartered Institute of Projects Management of Nigeria (CIPMN), more than N17 trillion had been wasted by successive administrations in the country.

It is against the foregoing, therefore, that the pledge by Governor Sheriff Oborevwori not to abandon any project in Delta State, whether initiated by his government or inherited from the immediate past or previous administrations in the state, should be appreciated. Of more significance is the fact that Oborevwori has given credence to this commitment as demonstrated in the recent inauguration of the multi-billion naira, ultra-modern High Court Complex in Asaba, the state capital.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan, who cut the tape to declare the five-floor imposing edifice open on Tuesday, 4th June, had nothing but commendation for Oborevwori; both for the functional impetus the hi-tech facility would add to justice administration processes in the state and the less travelled democratic government policy channel in the nation’s clime of zero tolerance for abandonment or non-completion of government projects.

Jonathan, who also recalled how Oborevwori had returned more than half a billion naira unused funds to the state treasury when he was the Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, asserted that the governor has already began to cut a niche for himself as a trustworthy and accountable leader interested in a paradigm shift in democratic governance.

The former president said, “There are some projects that are very fundamental to the growth and development of the state and we expect anybody who takes over government to continue with them and you are doing exactly that. I believe that if you go across the country today, this is one of the best judiciary headquarters in the country and I congratulate the Governor and the Judiciary of Delta State for this exemplary project.”

While calling for the strengthening of the judicial and electoral systems to address certain democratic challenges in Nigeria, Jonathan lamented that half of the thousands of post-election litigations in Nigeria were frivolous and initiated by dishonest politicians intent on manipulating or exploiting the weaknesses in the judiciary. Speedy dispensation of justice, which the new Delta high court headquarters promises, was one way of addressing the electoral problem.

Jonathan, who famously accepted defeat at the 2015 presidential poll, said, “Fifty percent of those who go to court do so because they felt they were cheated by the electoral management system. The other fifty percent that go to court, they know that they failed the election; but they feel they can use the judiciary to declare them winners.”

Oborevwori, explained the concept and features of the judicial facility during the inauguration witnessed by Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who was represented by the presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal, Asaba Division, Justice Bolaji Yusuf, and the Chief Judge of Delta State Justice Tessy Diai. The facility is provided with a 350KVA generator and 150KVA generator, and it is also connected to the Asaba Independent Power Plant, to allow for uninterrupted power supply.

Included in the five-floor building are six courtrooms, six conference halls, ViP lounge, six witness waiting rooms, six holding cells, six judges and lawyers lounge, six secretarial offices, two general conference halls as well as Internet facility and a library, the Delta State Commissioner for Housing, Mr. Godknows Angele, explained.

The governor also presented 20 Toyota SUVs (sports utility vehicles) to judges in the state during the occasion.

One year in the saddle…

Oborevwori was ushered into office as the fifth elected governor of the oil-rich Delta State following his inauguration on May 29, 2023, with a development blueprint called the M.O.R.E. agenda. The M.O.R.E agenda, which is acronym for “Meaningful Development; Opportunities for All; Realistic Reforms and Enhanced Peace and Security”, is obviously an attempt at taking the development blueprint of the previous administration, namely, ‘Stronger Delta’, to a higher level.

It is noteworthy that the man sometimes regarded as a “streetwise” grassroots politician, had successfully scaled 38 legal hurdles, climaxed with a Supreme Court victory, in the making of his governorship under the canopy of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Oborevwori, therefore, recalled his unprecedented legal struggle as an important landmark in the celebration of his first year in office, stressing he could only have been chosen by God for the position.

The governor has not minced words about his determination of seeing to the completion of all state projects, be they the brainchild of the current government or those initiated by previous administrations in the state. Speaking at the inauguration of a set of road projects criss-crossing Oshimili South and Oshimili North local government areas, which form the core of the State capital, to mark the traditional 100 Days in Office, Oborevwori said, “Under the M.O.R.E agenda of this administration, we are poised to raise the bar when it comes to road and physical infrastructure as well as urban renewal. I assure you that the coming months and years will witness accelerated infrastructural development of the most vital interest and impact.”

In one fell swoop, Oborevwori inaugurated a network of 29 roads with 31.45 kilometers line drains spanning the Madonna College Road in Asaba and Okpanam areas of Oshimili South and Oshimili North local government areas of the state.

The Oborevwori government has also continued on the same trajectory as the previous administration in the areas of healthcare programme and education, with projects’ inauguration in the four state-owned universities. For instance, projects recently inaugurated at the Dennis Osadebey University, Anwai-Asaba, include 500 and double 250-seater auditoriums, building and furnishing of Faculty of Agriculture, Administrative Building as well as Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge; entrance gate and the main entrance access road.

The award of over N78 billion contracts in respect of a set of projects – comprising roads, drains and flyover bridges – in the Warri and Uvwie commercial axis made headline news from Delta State.

Over and above the multi-billion naira contract to give the Warri South-West and Uvwie local government areas a long-awaited facelift was the fact that Oborevwori has invited an internationally acknowledged construction giant in Nigeria, Julius Berger Plc, to handle it. Granted that the previous government of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa had established the Warri, Uvwie and Environs Development Agency in an effort to improve construction of roads and drainages in the area, there were, however, complaints about pausity of funds to carry out its statutory assignment despite its annual budgetary allocation of over N8 billion.

Facilities in the Warri Township Stadium are also being upgraded by the state government in line with the administration’s urban renewal programme.

Nevertheless, the recent appointments made into relevant boards and various positions, including that of a substantive State Chief Job Creation Officer in the person of Ifeanyi Agwunyenga, a seasoned youth employment content creation and vocational training expert, the Oborevwori administration looks set to unleash a truly inclusive socio-economic and infrastructure development on Delta State based on the M.O.R.E template aimed at midwifing a roundly ‘Stronger Delta’ into an envisaged reality.

An old hand, with both private and public experience, Sir Fidelis Tilije, the commissioner, said that his ministry was looking to expanding the state’s internally generated revenue through extending the tax net over the informal sector even while promising not to overburden taxpayers with multiple taxation.

Oborevwori was very patient and painstaking indeed, in making various major appointments, including those of the information commissioner and the state attorney-general and commissioner of justice. Former information commissioner and a media aide under the Okowa administration, Messrs Charles Aniagwu and Olisa Ifeajika, respectively, also join former colleagues, Mr Jackson Ekwugum, the governor’s Communication Manager, and Dr Fred Latimore Oghenesivbe, who now combines the State Orientation Bureau with his strategic political communication duties.

To the former longest serving Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, aside from assembling a committed team of political appointees to work with the new State Executive Council and convivial relationship with the Legislature and the Judiciary, good democratic governance should also be defined in terms of continuity and sustained development, which benefits the citizens directly because the Incidence of abandoned projects is effectively eliminated.

Moreover, although there is fair injection of youth into his government, the Oborevwori administration is tested hands from previous PDP governments; which is expected to ensure a good measure of stability in the state government, the local government councils, and even the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, especially as a July timetable date for the local council polls has already been released by the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC).

Perhaps, Oborevwori’s commitment to delivering on masses-oriented policy programmes and projects has advised his deliberate cultivation of good working relationship with traditional rulers and the different security agencies in the state, obviously because peace is invaluable to socio-economic development.

The eventual resolution of the mysterious dastardly killing of seven military personnel in March at Ukuama waterfront in Ughelli South Local Government Area underscores the importance of consciously nurturing such relationships.

The unfortunate Okuama security drama, which became an acid test for Oborevwori, had occurred weeks after the state government had initiated a conciliation pact by making the Okuama community and Okoloba, its neighbours in Bomadi Local Government Area, to sign a peace accord. Clearly still smarting from the trying experience, and in what appeared like reading the riot act to all natural rulers in the state, the Governor expressed the desire to have the royal fathers take firm control in their respective domains, by familiarizing themselves with their subjects in every nook and cranny of the kingdom to avert a reoccurrence of the Okuama tragedy.

Nonetheless, going forward, the renewed drive towards tackling illegality and insecurity deserves some attention in considering Oborevwori’s performance during the first quarter of his four-year term. These efforts have been highlighted by the setting up of a taskforce on recovery of government lands either illegally acquired or developed across the state. The taskforce has been simply ruthless and business-like since it swung into operation few weeks ago. Subsequently, taskforce bulldozers have left tales of pain, tears and lamentations for property owners in affected areas around the Anwai-Asaba campus of Dennis Osadebey University as well as parts of Warri and Effurun metropolis.

Also, efforts have been intensified about environmental sanitization with clearing of shanties and illegal or unsightly structures particularly in Asaba and the adjoining Okpanam, and other urban centres across the state. These activities are being complemented with the banning of cart-pushing scavengers (popularly called iron-condemn) and commercial motorcyclists (Okadamen) operating in Asaba and parts of the State  Capital Territory. Although, the government insists that the ban would eliminate the situation whereby criminal elements infiltrated the ranks of the  motorcyclists, many residents of parts of the capital territory have complained about the poor condition of some roads, which only motorcyclists or okada operators have provided some succour.

Although, he did not announce the envisaged increase in the salary of civil servants on May Day, Oborevwori has maintained that he is committed to the welfare of the state workforce. He made a surprise visit to the State Secretariat Complex few months after assuming office last year during which he told the civil servants “As a promise-keeper, I came here for two reasons: To see how you are doing in your work places, and to bring you good news that the promotion arrests that you have been demanding for all these years have been approved.”

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