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Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

The latest honour bestowed a few days ago on Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as the Best Performing Governor of the Year Award in Infrastructural Development in Nigeria has finally said what has been on the minds of Deltans. Separate from  affirming the title of ‘Road Master’ Deltans code named the Governor, the award which was presented to Governor Okowa at the Event Centre, Asaba, during the opening ceremony of the 19th International Civil Engineering Conference and Annual General Meeting of the Institution which has as its theme; “Civil Infrastructure Development: Chal­lenges and Prospects Under Pandemic Situ­ations”, more than anything  else  amplified the believe that the  Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa is laced with attributes of a clear thinker as outlined by Justin Merkins in his book titled; the Executive Intelligence.

To copiously quote Merkins, he said in parts; there are clear thinkers, muddled thinkers and people that fall in between. Clear thinks -are the ones that can cull everything down into the right points-are very hard to find. But if you get yourself a team of clear thinkers, the possibilities are endless. These are men who see tomorrow, trailblazers and high level executives, but most often misunderstood by some fellow countrymen still stuck in the old normal of yesterday. This voiced position about the Governor’s performance canvassed by the piece, is, and analysis of his scorecard in the past six years of his administration as the Executive Governor of the oil rich Delta state and have been dutifully captured in my previous interventions.

Indeed, while this piece also observes that there exists for the governor, room for improvement in order to finish strong as he desires, I will make a detour to observe/underline that separate from the award bestowed on Governor Okowa, this present intervention is largely a continuation/function of my recent conversation with Comrade Mulade, Country Director, Center for Peace and Environmental Justice, (CEPEJ). While some of the lessons of that conversation have been shared in my analysis in previous interventions, this particular angle remained untouched but now relevant to the present discourse.

Adding context to the discourse, Mulade in that report among other concerns, argued that as the nation races towards 2023, there exists an urgent imperative in the state (Delta) for mind restructuring as it relates to election of leaders. While admitting that experience in public leadership is important particularly as leadership is both nature and nurture, he however, urged deltans to imbibe a new attitude that dwell less on public leadership experience as prerequisite for determining  who will be the next governor of the state, as evidence abounds that most of the so called experienced public office holders occupied such position in the past without leaving any positive impact or stamp their legacies on the sand of time.

Chief James Onanefe Ibori

To further buttress his claim as well as strengthen his argument that one can actually perform superlatively as a governor without necessarily capped with previous public leadership experience, he pointed to the fact that the likes of Chief James Onanefe Ibori ,  had no record of previous public leadership experience before assuming the position of governor of the state in May 1999. Yet, his record of sterling achievements, and the echo of the regime keeps reverberating because of the foundation he laid and his fundamental style of governance that was an empowerment whirlwind.

Of course, Mulade, may be right! And again, looking at a report titled; the Views From Delta State authored by Eromo Egbejule, a Nigerian writer and journalist  and published  December 9, 2016, by the Africa Research Institute,  it becomes obvious that Mulade is not alone in this line of thinking.

Egbejule in that report noted in parts; under Ibori things were far from perfect, but progress was at least visible. He built bridges to hitherto inaccessible towns such as Omadino and Bomadi, across the Forçados River; and scores of roads were constructed across the state’s three senatorial districts. The education sector also benefited from the state government’s investments in the early 2000s.

A number of higher institutions were built: three polytechnics, a college of physical education and a navy school. Medical students at Delta State University also benefited from a new teaching hospital, albeit in the governor’s hometown. Ibori’s greatest impact was in the sports sector. An indoor sports complex was constructed in the state capital Asaba. Oghara got a brand-new stadium, along with a total transformation from glorified village to mini-city. Sapele, Oleh, Ughelli and other towns also got new stadiums or upgrades to existing facilities. Perhaps it was a ploy to serialise stealing or a genuine desire to spread development across the state – or both. Either way, it worked brilliantly.

Comrade Sheriff Mulade

There was an active youth development programme. There were clinics for referees, scholarships for athletes and early release of funds was encouraged to allow athletes the necessary time to prepare properly. Delta State topped the medals table at the National Sports Festival in 2000, 2004 and 2006, and came second in 2002. In 2002 and 2006 it hosted the African Women Cup of Nations Championship (as it is now known). Ibori was revered for bringing international football to the state. The report concluded.

Thus, as the build up to political activities for the Delta 2023 governorship race gradually gathers momentum, it is important in my views that the state go for someone with leadership qualities and sterling integrity to succeed  Governor Okowa from May 29, 2023.

The state needs a leader that will sustain Okowa’s achievements and engineer development in the state without excess socioeconomic hardship and environmental degradation, but in a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations and contributes to compatible approaches. A leader that will bring about the infusion of human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in development initiatives in the state in a particular way and process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms, while expanding the capabilities and choices of the individual.

Once more, while it is obvious that deltans experienced a period of economic growth under Ibori, Emmanuel Udughan and Okowa’s administrations, the likes of which most of the states in the Federation had never before seen, I however, hold the opinion that come 2023, the state will need as a state governor someone that will provide answer to the question as to what exactly impedes the development of the Niger Delta/ Coastal areas and other rural communities of the state. Find out why the legislative framework guiding the region is not providing a strong source of remedy for individuals and communities negatively affected by oil exploration and production in the coastal communities. Determine why it is not effective and enforceable; why the framework is not acting as a legal solution to the issues of oil-related violations.

Finally, although Governor Okowa has stated in clear terms that only God knows who will succeed him, it is however, important for deltans to pray and work for an authentic leader who will demonstrate a passion for his purpose, practice his values consistently and lead with his heart as well as his head.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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