History does matter. ‘It has a way of repeating itself’, and has shown clearly that ordinary calculation can be upturned by extra-ordinary personalities. In the case of Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta state, the ancient argument whether circumstance or personality shapes events are settled in favour of the latter.
Adding context to the discourse, the nation is currently faced with economic crisis. This challenge stems from the country’s revenue crisis, which has remained unabating in the last seven years while the borrowings have persisted, an indication that the economy has been primed for recurring tough outcomes.
Against this backdrop, it is obvious that for Nigeria to move out of this present vicious circle of highland, which economic analysts describes as poverty in the midst of plenty, the nation Nigeria come 2023, needs not a leisurely Vice President reputed for antagonizing the President or be a burden to the nation or functions in the administration only as the proverbial spare tyre as referred to in the Nigeria’s political palace/circle.
Rather, the country needs as Vice President a creative and transformative leader experienced in temperament, positive mindset, flexible attitude and enterprise spirit to work hard with concentration on the business of governance and aware that as a Vice President, he/she needs to have detailed knowledge and sound experience to assume and function in such a sensitive position.
And without doubt, Governor Okowa has over the years shown that he understands the meaning and requirement of being a leader in a complex country like Nigeria and is aware that it requires intensive efforts to keep the people of the country together-he has in the past seven years mixed and interacted with people of different types and classes in the nation and benefited from their experience.
Aside from being capped with patience, humility, tolerance and responsiveness required to understand and follow public leadership rules, regulations and other restrictions when conducting the business of governance, Okowa’s actions and inactions in the past seven years of being in the saddle as the Governor of the oil rich Delta state has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he is truly laced with capacity needed to occupy, and function at the level of Vice President of the country. More than anything else he exudes qualitative that postures him as transformation personified.
looking at commentaries, he is medical Doctor turned Politician, a politician turned Administrative Secretary of Ika Local Government; administrative Secretary turned Local Government Chairman (Ika Local Government); Local Government Chairman turned Commissioner where he at different times and places transversed different ministries; Commissioner turned Secretary to the State Government (SSG); Secretary to the State Government (SSG turned Senator and of course a Senator turned Executive Governor of the state who is now serving out his second term in office as the Executive Governor of the state.
At this point, let’s cast a glance at some practical examples.
In May 29, 2015, amidst cheers and jubilation from the marmot crowd that attended his swearing –in ceremony at the Cenotaph in Asaba, Okowa told his audience that, “ as a government, we are committed to the building and consolidation of a state in which there shall be more employment opportunities, a flourishing agriculture and agribusiness sector , effective health and educational systems, renewed urban infrastructure and enhanced security and peace to bolster economic growth and development.”
Now, looking at the past seven years of his administration, it will elicit the question as to how well has the Governor brought these promises to fruition? Also, at the national levels, how relevant is Governor Okowa when it comes to issues of national urgent importance? As the current Governor of Delta state, what particulars can Okowa led government point at to convince Nigerians that he can effectively administer the Federation?
In providing answers to these nagging questions beginning with the last question, it must be fundamentally underlined that separate from the fact that Delta state, to use the words of Governor Okowa, is a microcosm of Nigeria because she is populated by different ethnic nationalities and has had inter-ethnic conflicts/ clashes, fatal boundary disputes, especially over oil-bearing land, and political tensions, a case that in my views qualifies a governor of such state to effectively lead the Federation, Governor Okowa, as subsequent paragraph will show, since assumption of office in May 29, 2015, demonstrated that for the leader to distinguish himself, he has to be a shining light and as such, he should be in a position to break the retrogressive tendencies that subsists in doing what one does not wish to do.
To capture this claim well, this piece will further x-ray/classify the achievements of Governor Okowa’s administration into two. First, achievements at the state levels which has to do with policy objectives/ programmes implementation aimed at creating jobs and wealth (Wealth creation and employment generation), economic diversification, democratization of education sector, infrastructural development, re-jigging/provision of the state’s security architecture in the state, engagement of the youths in productive enterprise, nurture of entrepreneurs and leaders, promotion of communal peace and development of database of employment and unemployed youths for planning purposes. The second focuses his unrelenting nation building efforts at the federal level.
Evidence also abounds that the Governor in pursuance of this objectives compressed his programmes into a five point agenda which is encapsulated in the acronym SMART. The SMART agenda means Strategic wealth creation projects and provision of jobs for all Deltans, Meaningful peace building platforms aimed at political and social harmony, Agricultural reforms and accelerated industrialisation, Relevant health and educational policies and Transformed environment through urban renewal.
Specifically, while it is a common knowledge that the governor has recently in the state scored high points in areas such as youth empowerment, infrastructural provisions, security and peace building, it is of considerable importance to underline that Okowa is presently making in-road and covering new grounds in areas that are more national in outlook.
Let’s look at this issues beginning with his recent call for complete overhaul of the nation’s 1999 Constitution.
It was widely reported that Senate Sub-Committee on review of the 1999 Constitution met recently, with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, in Asaba, the state capital. Surprisingly but to the admiration of all, Governor Okowa was not only decisive but emphatic in his position/demand. While he noted that Nigeria needs a new constitution, he kicked against the amendment of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Let’s listen to him; a new constitution for the country had become necessary in view of inherent flaws in the 1999 Constitution. It’s good enough that those sent here are familiar with the zone. So, when the people speak, they would understand “But, I also wished that some persons from other zones actually had the opportunity to come here and hear the voices of our people directly, because sometimes we do not understand the extent of the pains that the Niger Delta people truly suffer in the country. “We believe in one country and in the unity of Nigeria, but we will continue to ask for equity as a people, and I know that the people will give their opinion at the public hearing,” he stated. The governor urged the National Assembly to reconsider power devolution to the states, review revenue allocation formula, oil derivation and state police in the amendment to enable the Chairman of Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to provide a revenue allocation formula proposal directly before the lawmakers.
He lamented that the revenue allocation formula had not been reviewed for the last 24 years, whereas it was supposed to be reviewed every five years, Okowa noted that oil-producing states had continued to struggle for the 13 percent derivation fund, adding that oil was a wasting asset, while the environment where it was being extracted had continued to be polluted and degraded.
Away from the call for complete overhaul to the call for nation restructuring, he again going by media reports captures it this way; the voices for restructuring have been very strong out there. Why will somebody even criticize restructuring? The only thing you need to know is that restructuring is of various facets, you only have to bring forth your arguments”.
His stand came against the backdrop of the criticisms of the Asaba Declaration by Abubakar Malami, Federal Attorney and Minister of Justice including Mallam Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman.
“I actually thought that the voices who tend to criticize the meeting failed to have an understanding. People should learn to approach things after a very deep thought rather than just looking at the surface, picking one thing and speaking about it. “We actually came in as state governors to reaffirm our belief in the Nigerian state and secondly we do also realise that there are things going on very wrongly and there was a need to address them”, the governor said.
On the enactment of anti open grazing laws in the state, the Governor again, scored a very high point as he berated critics of southern governors on the ban of open grazing of cattle and the call for national dialogue to restructure Nigeria.
‘These were part of the decisions taken when he hosted his 16 colleagues on 11 May, 2021 in Asaba where they also called for state police and devolution of powers from the Federal Government to the States. “We owe no apologies, because we spoke the truth and we thought that the truth we spoke was in the best interest of this nation. Can we truly at this moment be promoting open grazing? Thank God that the President was misrepresented, because I have seen news headlines that the President is not opposed to the ban on open grazing. We need to begin to look into what is best for us. Where we were 50 years ago should not be where we should be today and tomorrow.”
“Today, a lot of money is being spent by the Central Bank of Nigeria to encourage farmers to ensure that we are food sufficient but a lot of these efforts are lost, because of insecurity. Farmers can’t go to farm, their crops are destroyed, they are maimed and raped and some are even killed. We cannot continue like this, because if you have a programme you are spending billions on, we must secure it and we must ensure the food security of this country.”
“Ranching obviously is the only way out as is happening in other climes and it’s not impossible in this place. In some parts of Taraba State, ranching has been on for so many years and we can actually create those ranches where the cattle will have more meat, more milk and then the children can actually afford to go to school”, “We may not go into the big ranches but we can start in some form by acquiring some lands for that purpose and it may not be owned by individuals. Government can own the ranches where individuals can come and populate and pay some form of token”, the governor stated.
To be continued.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.