By: Odunze Josephine Awele
A new tenure for the Delta State Governor began on May 29, 2019. It opens a new vista for the further evolution of the state called Delta, her polity, economy and landscape, substantially and essentially; as well as foregrounding the already celebrated successes and strides of the four years prior. To inhabit the new possibilities the next four years hold for the state, we attempt to foreshadow what an illustrious state like ours would look like by May 2023.
The following submission articulates a futuristic lens of Delta State under Governor Okowa’s leadership. Core issues have been identified as barometers by which the State should be rated, 48 months from now. They are hereby calibrated in the subheadings below, made up of 8 cardinal points:
AGRICULTURE, JOB CREATION & EMPLOYMENT
The Niger Delta is well documented as a hotbed of youth restiveness. While this is not exactly peculiar to other regions in the country, the case of the Niger Delta is unique because it straddles the mass potentials of crude oil deposits with the attendant grievances of host communities, resource-control agitations and a youth population at the centre of deviant street-ism and formal education that has not actually secured their futures. Consequently, it is beyond imperative to prioritize gainful employment that can cater for families; and also pursue this goal beyond and over.
Necessary to militate against such restiveness and the potential for crime, the last four years has seen the execution of YAGEP and PPSP agro-entrepreneurial programmes (Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme and Production Processing and Support Programme respectively). The programmes have seen over 3,600 participants, individuals and groups benefit from small and medium scales packages, where they have been established in enterprises in piggery, poultry, fishery and crop production (rice and vegetable farming). Through STEP and GEEP programmes (Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme and Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme), thousands of participants have been trained on vocational skill acquisition. In the process, they have learned entrepreneurial skills in building services (such as electrical installation, plumbing, upholstery, welding and fabrication); socialization and urban culture services (such as catering and confectionaries, fashion design, hairdressing and makeover, decoration and event management); and information technology services (such as computer hardware engineering). In total, around 15,000 youths across the 25 local governments in the state have been trained in the aforementioned programmes.
We envisage that the 2019-2023 tenure will see an intensification of these programmes, increasing the range and number of beneficiaries. We envisage an even more cutting-edge vocational training idea to enlighten and empower the teeming workforce of Delta that are yet to be fully harnessed. We also visualize that domiciling these aforementioned programmes in local government territories to forestall rural-urban migration would keep skilled and productive labour within suburban localities, and expand the horizon of its indigenous people.
We envisage that the Governor would come to terms with, and operate to implicate the reality that emphasizing youths in the pursuance of employment generation may be necessary, but it would be more epochal to understand and foreground the understanding that the stereotypical assumption that job creation as a necessity is not a monopoly of the youth population. This is important in the way it would preclude the exclusion of a large swathe of Delta citizens who do not necessarily fit into the demographic that governments typically prioritize; and enhance the inclusion of other age-cadres, from the itinerant to the blue-collar. Optimism is high in the regard of this expectation, especially as the State Government in its previous tenure actually did show trailblazing inclusiveness by training and establishing individuals with disabilities in all LGAs.
We envisage that the Governor would intensify the income-earning potentials inherent in the Agricultural sector, already identified in the YAGEP and STEP programmes, by pursuing as it successfully did in the 2017-18 cycle, World Bank/EU funding; by instituting an agro-Industrial park at Aboh, Ogwashi-Uku; by providing agribusiness technologies and inputs at subsidized terms and facilitating farmer loans; and by activating the proposal for increased private sector partnership for commercial agriculture.
We envisage that further empowerment will be accorded the Office of the Chief Job Creation Officer to revolutionize the labour market and tap up the best potentials.
At the Federal front, there has been renewed hope for increased worker wages, and with the implementation imminent, the Delta State Government, arguably will be one of the first to adopt the upgraded wages in its salary disbursement.
“School na scam” thus goes the new pervasive street-ist catchphrase.
It is founded on, and fertilized by the summation of the Nigerian economic condition, where after years of secondary and tertiary education and mental self-development, many a Deltan cannot find means of a productive excretal of their acquired skills and certified competencies. Following this, and well aware of the limiting emphasis of statutory curriculums on theoretic concerns, the Government over the past four years has emphasized technical training and vocational acquisition. The corollary of this has been the revamping of all existing 6 technical colleges and 9 vocational skill centers; as well the establishment of an additional 12 primary and 34 secondary schools. However, formal curriculum has remained in the front burner, with over 3,000 classrooms across the three tiers of education either given massive upgrades or built from scratch.
We see a Teachers Professional Development Centre built by the Government, performing a purpose of improving content output and individual capacities of teaching staff in the State, for an improved educational standard. It is hoped the TPDC will be a platform to train teachers and upgrade their exposure.
We see many more primary and secondary schools in all three senatorial districts given infrastructural upgrades and facelifts, and more to come, as freshly instituted developments.
We see the attainment of more accreditation statuses for Faculties and Departments in Delta State University, and a subsequent rise in the Times Higher Education rankings. This yearly ranking by one of the world’s most renowned university ranking system domiciles its parameters in innovation, international diversity of staff and students, quality of teaching and learning environment, and research output. The trajectory of the State University is tending towards an incrementally positive upgrade in quality, grandeur of status and certificates, attraction of staff and students from all over the country, and securing of TETFUND grants for modern infrastructure and scholarships. A massive Senate Building for Delta State University is nearing completion already.
We see capacity enhancement for all state polytechnics, to combat the perception that they are at best, lower quality substitutes for universities.
We see concerted effort to raise teacher morale at all tiers by prioritizing the disbursement of promotion arrears and gratuities even more promptly than the record pace.
Delta State was a pioneer in the Universal Health Coverage programme. It was the first of its kind in the country, and such was its success, it enrolled a massive 288,000 persons into the scheme, spanning across a demographic that betrayed gender, age or class civil servants, pregnant women, commercial tricycle drivers, toddlers under age 5, even royalty in the state. Such was its success, the state won the National Award for Excellence in State Social Health Insurance Scheme in 2017. Moreso, almost 500,000 Deltans have been enrolled in the Contributory Health Insurance Scheme, in order to improve access to finances for their health. The Health for All Deltans (HeFAD) programme has been an avenue to reach rural and riverine communities with over 33,000 beneficiaries in 2018 alone.
A responsible government recognizes that nothing is as important as a healthy citizenry. Bill Gates, visiting Nigeria last year, publicly advised the President and the then Finance Minister on the best way to approach economic emancipation. His model was clear: invest in the citizens their education and their health. The state government has always been ahead in this regard. Consequently in the first tenure, Governor Okowa’s strides in the sector were evident in the procurement of medical equipment and technologies, as well as emergency ambulance services for state-owned health institutions. Also, accreditation was acquired for most programmes run in the state’s health training institutions, in Agbor, Eku, Warri and Oghara.
We should expect: that the already inaugurated Local Government Health Authorities will oversee every crevice of the primary health care system to the betterment of all Deltans, irrespective of their location, be it urban, rural or riverine.
We should expect: in the second tenure, massive renovation of primary health care centres. 107 centres are currently undergoing a facelift in the earmarked first phase. Also, in order to maximize the infrastructure being built, there is the need to recruit efficient staff. Following this, recruitment of healthcare workers of various cadre, should be an expected development.
We should expect: continued training of health workers on malaria management, immunization, vaccination, sensitization of nursing mothers on baby nutrition, as well as senior citizens, in regard to grassroots medical outreaches.
We should expect: a government-NGO collaborative effort to tackle drug abuse; commissioning of more sickle-cell centres in government owned hospitals; and intensification of free distribution of medications, reading glasses, mosquito nets and other relevant lightweight medical material.
PEACE & SECURITY
In a state that is pivotal to the national economy and regional stability of the Niger-Delta, as Delta is, it is extremely imperative and sensitive to maintain the peace and manage volatile hotspots of youth restiveness, bunkering and oil pipeline vandalism, kidnapping, inter-ethnic tensions and border disputes.
The past four years have seen an acute display of intelligence on the part of the government, where initiatives were taken to forestall security challenges in the realm of the aforementioned possibilities. Remote causes of such security lapses have been long identified and further ports of community intelligence have been designed to supply relevant information to the constituted authorities and security agencies. A fall-out of this has been the establishment of strategic platforms for dialogue, youth employment, engagement with host communities of oil installations, and then a conduit to the Federal Government as a joint-advocacy forum to foreground the need for peace and stability.
We can tell Delta in four years time, will be on relative terms to its sister states in the Niger-Delta region, a safe haven for business tourism, and investment.
We can tell Delta in four years time, would have focused on, and tackled attendant problems of insecurity, arising from increased levels of street-ist based cultism, hooliganism, internet fraud and money rituals. Pockets of such incidences have been recorded in recent times and have been robustly responded to. But it is envisaged that there will now be a concentrated effort to combat urban and suburban crime rates in all crevices of the State.
It is beyond just reactive measures. We can tell Delta in four years time, would have developed a decent community-agency interaction programme where there would be a direct link between the remotest of communities and a specially-designed control room open to 24/7 updates and rapid responses.
The in-thing in the country right now, the nation’s albatross is the herdsmen-farmers clashes. They have claimed lives and properties and caused serious security headaches. We see a Delta State government that will apply its uncommon wisdom to construct a scheme involving traditional institutions and modern authorities, customized for the terrain and topography of communities in the state. In this regard, we can foresee town hall meetings where age and occupational cadre are well represented, and reports forwarded to the State Government.
HOUSING, URBAN RENEWAL & ROAD INFRASTRUCTURE
They do not call him the ‘Road Master’ for nothing. Across the three senatorial districts of the state, the last four years have witnessed a massive focus on the access roads to rural areas of the state, as the Government has been concerned about the fluid movement of goods, services and capital to and fro urban and rural/riverine areas. Consequently, over 1,000 kilometres of impeccable road network have been cumulatively constructed, across over 350 road projects. The Asaba International Airport also underwent rehabilitation, expansion and an upgrade, so much that the runway was expanded to 3.4 kilometres and it hosted its first touch down from an international airline from South Africa.
In urbanized areas and developing towns, the need for standard housing has always outweighed the supply available, and as a response, the State Government has actively intervened in the regard of large scale housing schemes, and certain provisos that encourage property developers to be more assertive and productive.
We can look forward to the completion of the ongoing 150 housing units on Ibusa Road and another 150 at Ugbolu. We can also expect the development of a massive 12,000-housing unit altogether, from already agreed government collaborations with SHELFER AFRIQUE, the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund, and LERFAGE. These are all low-income housing schemes that will be really affordable for the working class of the state.
We can look forward to the Delta State Development Authority (DDPA), coming through with and executing a 400-unit housing plan in the Junior Staff Estate, Asaba all two-storey apartments for medium and high income earners.
We can look forward to an upgrade in road rehabilitation and construction in the state, in the realm of more access roads to rural and riverine areas; and then giving terrible, accident-prone spots on Federal highways running across the state, a face-lifting support.
By 2023, the State Government will be running its affairs in a more coordinated manner. Rented buildings scattered across town, have been housing all 28 Ministries, Departments and Agencies in the state capital, and consequently, service delivery has always been cumbersome. However, we can look forward to a seamless operational mode, because it is inevitable that a massive Central State Secretariat to accommodate all 28 MDAs will be completed and commissioned for use.
It cannot be underestimated the power of sports to unite, to entertain, to introduce a culture, to occupy the mind and body, and enable income earning. Hitherto, the terrain of sports in the state while routinely appreciated has not in recent times, found the intensity of investment and focus as it has under Governor Okowa’s stewardship.
Massive human resource development has been the focus in that regard, and the returns have been stunning for the state: 1st position in 2016, 2017, 2018 editions of the National Youth Games; 1st position in the 2018 National Sports Festival; participation in 450 sport competitions, with a media return of 270 Gold, 210 Silver and 150 Bronze. Furthermore, the State Government revamped the traditional yearly Principals Cup Football tournament for Secondary Schools, securing sponsorship from Zenith Bank for it. An annual Headmasters Cup for Primary Schools was also instituted as a talent pool for the future.
Okowa under four years completed a world class stadium in Asaba, with football, track and field, and indoor games possibilities. Such was the stadium’s standard, it immediately qualifies for use, to host athletic contingents from 52 African countries in the 2018 African Senior Athletic competition, and FIFA certification to host competitive matches of the Super Eagles.
The SMART governor is famous for restless, relentless pursuit of success and improvement, and it can be imagined such sporting success will be consolidated.
Check the VAR: to reckon, that if the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba can become a hub of first-rate sporting activity in short a while after its completion, it is then glorious to bask in the coming euphoria of what sporting beauty can happen if the Warri Stadium follows in the same direction as the Asaba did.
The implication is that the State will gain positive visibility, and be portrayed in progressive lights for future visitors.
ARTS AND CULTURE
Every December, Deltans the world over tune in to international cable/satellite television, to revel in the euphoric beauty that is the Calabar carnival. Many Deltans even travel down there for purposes of tourism, research, media coverage and even technical support and participation in the organization and overall artistry the carnival puts on display. It begs belief that while over the past years the State Art’s Council has not exactly pulled its weight in that regard, it is bursting with intellectuals and practitioners who have the capacity to draw a blueprint to propose the institution of a likewise yearly carnival in Delta.
Governor Okowa over the past four years has demonstrated an eye for the bold and unchartered terrain. He loves to plunge into the daring and breathtaking. The situation of thousands of road projects deep in the crevices of rural areas, and not only urban centres, shows his priority remains the uncharted course, over clout. Therefore, one can imagine that if as a well-travelled Governor, developmental ideas on Arts and the local Culture are presented to him, he would certainly consider it. A state as robust as Delta, with ethnicities like Enuani, Ika, Ukwuani, Urhobo, Isoko, Itsekiri, Ijaw tribes with deep historical, anthropological and mythological local content should be presenting its multiple beauties to the world in a cultural festival, in an array of drums, dances, costumes, body paintings, esoteric chants, tribal lores, folk songs etc, bringing out the people in celebration of our uniqueness-in-oneness. One can only imagine the humongous benefits such an event would have on the local economy of the hosting city.
If Delta were to consider hosting a Cultural event, it may not qualify for it because there is the need for a Cultural Centre edifice in the state. The land earmarked for that project had been collapsed into the Cenotaph project by the previous administration before Okowa.
Dear 2023, I write this letter, seated in the same edifice that until now, only existed in the imagination; but here you are a towering testament to an 8-year Okowan attempt at the Utopian.
Filming requires the benefit of a stable and safe location. Nollywood is increasingly demonstrating a penchant and preference for filming in Asaba, the Delta State capital. One can imagine the State, maximizing this reality by encouraging it through building a world class Film Village and then designing a regulatory avenue to rake in some revenue into the state coffers from the fact its capital city has become a hub of filmmaking.
Consequently, the state needs an agency under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to fine-tune and execute modalities in line with the afore-suggested.
POLITICS AND STATECRAFT
It is a vogue, for politics to be perceived in the same breath as mischief, turmoil, manipulation, tussle, grievance, and the likes. Such perceptions may not be entirely untrue. And it is better experienced than imagined if the art of statecraft of managing a government, of being accountable to the people, of being responsible for the greater picture, ignoring personal clout in the process is hinged a politics or orientation that looks like the aforementioned.
But things are different in Delta.
There are endless examples and instances one can throw up. But a few cases can make the same mighty point. Governor Okowa sees politics only after seeing statecraft. The implication is that there are no enemies in his realm. Months before the gubernatorial elections, pictures of him shaking hands and smiling with Great Ogboru, the flagbearer for the APC and then with ex-governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who at the time had left the PDP for the APC in pursuit of a senatorial seat, went viral. It was utterly astounding the humility and purity of mind Governor Okowa displayed during the campaign period for gubernatorial elections. As is the unspoken custom, many sitting governors frustrate the range of opposition campaigns either by blocking approval for the use of venues or suffocating mass media possibilities.
President Muhammadu Buhari was billed to attend the APC mega rally in Warri Stadium, both for presidential and gubernatorial election campaigns. Governor Okowa of the PDP, put away partisanship and headed for the Warri airport to welcome the nation’s number one citizen. In another breadth, the same Governor who oversaw the PDP national convention, did not exhibit any disgust when an APC senator, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege became Deputy Senate President. The DSP’s Deltan origin was enough for the Governor, so much that he publicly sent his congratulations. What courtesy! Towns in Delta State that have over the years been notorious for being opposition strongholds, and have suffered underdevelopment that bothers on the intentional and vindictive, happen to have experienced their most fertile period, under Governor Okowa, in spite of their antecedents. The Federal Government RUGA proposal has caused recent agitations, and many have responded with disdain. Governor Okowa’s rejoinder was as classy as it was even a proposal of what the State would prefer the FG does. What class!
Political style and signature is also a corollary of association and acquaintances.
In the recent choice of appointments the Governor made, there was the mention of a man whose affiliation and friendship fits like a glove with the Governor’s mien and approach to things. He is a cerebral don and a socially-mobile progressive, whose continued presence in the executive cabinet foreshadows a Delta going places. In the four years prior, he was Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, a key ministry that directly oversaw all the contracts and project proposals for the State. He is Dr. Kingsley Emu whose contribution to the success of the Governor’s most important assignments, are akin to the necessity of the rapport between Merlin and King Arthur in British lore. Dr. Kingsley Emu’s new appointment as Chief Economic Adviser to the Governor is a harbinger of the immense and prosperous, and it further stands as a pointer to the fact that Okowa’s SMART revolution, is going to become fearsomely SMARTER!
Dear May 2023, we knew 8 years ago, Delta would fly high. What we did not know is we measured by the Pigeon. What we now know and see as the wings actually were those of the Eagle’s.
By Odunze Josephine Awele
A young Academic,
Department of Theatre Arts, Delsu, Abraka.