By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Even when it remains a difficult task to compress the achievements of Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa’s administration in the past seven years into a few worded pieces, one things stands out; Governor Okowa made good his promise as the Executive Governor of Delta state, to unlock – and unleash–youth entrepreneurship through technical/vocational education, brought about integrated infrastructural development in the state while ensuring that primary, secondary and tertiary education in the state received priority attention.
In the past seven years, the present administration as subsequent paragraphs will exemplify, devoted substantial resources, time and energy to build a knowledge-based economy and a critical mass of skills for entrepreneurship and business competitiveness. Over 20,000 persons benefited from our flagship Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP), Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP) and similar programmes undertaken by the Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Commerce and Industry, Women Affairs as well as the Delta State Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency.
In line with the above performance, over 5,000 classrooms were renovated/reconstructed/constructed while his administration has incubated, nurtured and brought into existence three healthy universities to cater for the academic yearnings of the people of the state.
The Delta State Library (a fully equipped e-resource centre) and the Office of the Head of Service were completed and are functioning to optimum capacity. Our quest for organizational synergy among Ministries, Departments and Agencies, cost-efficient bureaucracy and timely, excellent service delivery is in full flight with the commencement of construction of the Central Secretariat Complex, an architectural edifice in its own right. Sooner than later, all the MDAs will be in one location, which will enhance functionality, discipline and reduce cost of managing government business because they will have one source of power, internet services, among others. The new complex is also fitted with, among other facilities, banking halls and crèche to boost productivity and enhance staff welfare.
In the areas of infrastructural development of the state, it was reported that in his first term in office (between 2015 to 2019), Governor Okowa through the Ministries of Works, Urban Renewal and the Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency, embarked on a total of 455 projects comprising 1,269.42 kilometres of roads and 517.34 kilometres of drainage channels. As at April 30 this year, 263 of these roads, covering 638.23 kilometres of roads and 295.71 kilometres of associated drains have been completed. The Direct Labour Agency also made great strides in the development of road infrastructure during this period.
This effort has advanced rural-urban integration whilst ensuring that our urban centres remain livable cities with good road networks and recreation opportunities. Even much more significant is the awareness that such success in this sector not only saved thousands of jobs, but also created several thousand others as well as opportunities for the informal business sector to grow.
For instance, it was noted that when this administration came on board, many of the major construction companies/Government contractors were at the verge of retrenching many of their workers as a result of the slump in the economy. However, we prevailed on them not to do so, assuring them of patronage. Today, these companies have expanded and employed more people as a result of our huge investment in road and physical infrastructure.
As a result of the Governor’s effort in this direction, the State became the first in the country to commence Universal Health Coverage with the establishment of the Delta State Contributory Health Commission in February 2016. The Commission commenced healthcare service access to enrollees on the 1st of January 2017. As at May 15, 2019, the total number of enrollees stood at 530,664 broken down as follows:
Providing services under the scheme according to reports are 110 primary healthcare facilities, 65 secondary healthcare facilities and 52 private healthcare facilities spread across the 25 Local Government Areas in Delta State. Healthcare service access has also been provided to employees of the State at the Abuja and Lagos Liaison offices. With a robust and dynamic ICT Platform, the scheme has been able to initiate a seamless e-medical records registration process for all, a treatment protocol support for primary healthcare centres.
While the above feats are being applauded, Okowa’s ‘Widows Alert’ in the opinion of this piece remains another spectacular achievement that must not be allowed to go with political winds.
Speaking on how the state government decided on a life changing scheme, widely known as ‘Widows Alert’ in 2018 to provide succour and wipe away their tears, remedy their despair and perplexity, and assuage their hunger, he explained that the initiative by the governor is taking care of the poor and vulnerable widows in Delta State and cut across the 25 Local Government Areas. The Communities are touched by this programme. This program is non-political and this programme cuts across religious lines. The programme takes care of stipends of the widows monthly and also there is a third scheme attached to it. The widows can benefit from free healthcare. The premium of this healthcare is borne by His Excellency, the governor by way of the Delta State contributory healthcare. So, even if the widows have to undergo surgical operations, it is free of charge. And we have 5,607 widows enrolled in this scheme.
On how the state tracks those that are real widows, he explained that the names of these widows before now were drawn from the communities in Delta State. And the state makes sure the community leaders are involved to help ascertain the veracity of the widows. To those that are saying they are widows, indeed and to those that are saying they are poor and vulnerable widows, the community leaders are there to ascertain those points.
He stressed that the state does not draw up a list without making sure the community leaders are cross checking the facts. And recently, His Excellency, the Governor brought in a consultant to conduct an integrated service. They were saddled with the responsibility of coming up with an electronic database of widows across Delta State. So, today, they have rounded up their work and we have over 50,000 widows in the Delta State widow’s electronic database. So, we now have a compendium of widows that have been electronically generated. This database is used as veritable tools for the government to make decisions and plans concerning the widows.
On Governor Okowa’s style of supporting the project, he captures it this way; The Governor is the reason for the success of the programme. You know, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is an astute Chief Executive, and for every aspect of governance that is involved, there is a feedback mechanism that has been set up by him. Whenever there is a programme, the governor doesn’t just keep the programme. He pays attention to every detail of the program. The structure we have today in the widow’s welfare scheme has been set up solely by Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. Apart from me being the State Coordinator, there are three supervisors, each supervisor is in charge of each senatorial district in every local government, there are two Coordinators that are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the affairs of these widows and we have very little or no complaint coming from the widows. Dr. Okowa is the reason why the program is successful.
Continuing, he said; when you look at before 2018, the issue of widows in Delta state was not known by anybody. Widows are part of our society that nobody cares about. Their welfare was not being taken care of by anybody. Then, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa changed the narrative. When he came in, he has been able to make sure that the poorest of the poor among these widows, their issues have been brought to the front burner. Now, every year on June 23rd, we participate in International Widows Day. They have been recognized by the United Nations, a day to remember the issue of widows.
The Governor is the first Chief executive among the 36 states in the federation to observe this day. Sen. Dr. Ifenayi Okowa is the only governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria that has a programme of this nature where widows are paid monthly, where the healthcare benefits of these widows are taken care of monthly.
In other states, you might have the Chief Executive Officer take care of Widows only in seasonal times, like Christmas and Easter or during electioneering periods. But Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has made sure that the issue of widows has been brought to the front burner.
What happens with this? There are a lot of violent crimes crying out there from elements brought about by wrong parenting, when a home loses a father, remaining only the woman, and the woman is not able to take care of the children. What happens to the children? It is either the young girls go into prostitution or the young boys go into robbery. They go out there, trying to swindle people. When Dr. Okowa started taking care of widows, you can see that the narrative has changed and the life of these widows have witnessed a new beginning. So, a lot of landmarks have been set since the widows in Delta State have become part of the political system.
He has reached out to life. He has touched the untouchable. He has dropped Delta State from a point where the roads are not ploughable to a point where there is massive construction of roads everywhere. He has touched the youths in delta State through several programmes. He has made sure that programmes for the girl child has emanated in Delta State where the girl child is no longer dependent on her parents. Business opportunities have been provided for them. Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has made sure that there is peace in all those areas. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has done well.
I think this program has come to stay. I think the way Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa structured this programme, anybody that takes over from him must keep the programme going. His Excellency in his wisdom appointed the commissioner for humanitarian services. And of course, widow’s welfare is part of humanitarian services. So, you can see how detailed the governor is. You can see he is looking into ideal structures that will make sure the widows welfare scheme will not fade away. With the structures on ground by the governor, I think the programme is sustainable. He concluded.
Like ‘Widows Alert’, like Girls Empowerment Skill Training (GEST). It is a programme that the current administration in the state has sustainably planned, organized and conducted skill development programmes for his subjects as a much better and effective way of adopting suitable corrective measures for controlling negative attitudes among youths in the state.
These programmes are trainee-centred and service-oriented. The sectors and activities covered include agriculture, agricultural value chain services, vocational skills-based microenterprises and cottage enterprises. Furthermore, the training and mentoring processes aim beyond raising entrepreneurs to producing leaders and managers that have high levels of personal responsibility and effectiveness. I am pleased to let you know that after six years of faithful implementation of these programmes, we have trained and given business support packages to several thousands of youths. With this programme, the girl child is no longer dependent on her parents. Business opportunities have been provided for them. Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has made sure that there is peace in all those areas. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has done well.
Following the success of these interventions and other efforts in promoting technical education, Delta State was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017States Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria. Also in 2020, Delta was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, coming only after Lagos, Nigeria’s business hub, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Looking at his leadership process, there are many lessons to be drawn.
One , it has become obvious that he is among the few public office holders in the country that understands the true meaning of social, economic justice and social contracts with the governed. The Governor has approached human capital development in the state/youth empowerment in the past seven years, and demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that skill development remains the only major parameter through which the youth in the state who voted for him can achieve competitive advantage over their peers in other states and in other parts of the world.
Secondly, Okowa evidently recognizes that greater capacity makes it possible to get more done in less time at a higher level of engagement and with more sustainability. There is still something worth mentioning about the Governor and that is his understanding of poverty as a state or condition in which a person or community lacks the financial resources and essentials for a minimum standard of living. Like the United Nations (UN) which also defines poverty as a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information, Poverty in the Governor’s estimation means a state of living where the income level from employment is so low that basic human needs cannot be met.
In the same manner, the Governor glaringly understands that when the leader protects and empowers a girl child in all aspects of her identity, he automatically assists her, takes her own decisions as well as ensures the future against absenteeism of women from different socio-political and economical spheres of the country.
Finally, Okowa is a believer in the words of the late former Secretary General of the United Nation (UN), Kofi Annan, that there is no tool for development more effective than empowerment of women, and no other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality’.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), The Social And Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He could be reached via; email@example.com or 08032725374.