By Chukwudi Abiandu
The message notifying banneronlinenews.com to be part of the team of journalists to go on the two-day inspection and commissioning of projects as well as, town hall meetings of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa was short but sharp: ‘Please join us as we depart Ministry of Information by 8.00 am tomorrow (Friday) for assignments outside Asaba”.
It had earlier been make clear that the assignments were part of the continuation of the Governor’s second phase of inspection, commissioning of projects and town hall meetings. It was our lot to join in visiting two local governments, Ndokwa North Local Government Area and Patani Local Government Area. The journeys were long and arduous, covering Friday, October 20 and Saturday, October 21, 2017.
It was indeed, a good time spent interacting with the people. At every point of the visitation that saw him and his entourage paying courtesy calls on the traditional rulers at Patani and Kwale, Governor Okowa announced that it was the 14th and 15th town hall meetings he was holding. “We thought it was necessary to host the interactive sessions, to tell the people what we have done so far, to know what the people’s needs are, and how to assist in providing those immediate needs going forward,” he said, pointing out that “We came out a little over two years in a difficult time. But we are grateful to God that we are seeing changes as a result of the atmosphere of peace that has returned, leading to the repair of the damaged Forcados trunk line”.
He made the point that it therefore meant significantly that the state revenue cases was beginning to get better in terms of receipts from the Federal Allocation. This he also pointed out gives hope for better deals in the days ahead. However, Governor Okowa also explained that it is “not yet Uhuru” because of the low price of crude oil on the international market. Meaning that though the damaged Forcados trunk line has been repaired as an assurance of improved Federal Allocation, yet receipts of the state cannot be as expected because the low oil price is affecting what would normally have accrued to Delta State.
At the palace of the Odu Osa of Utagba-Ogbe Kingdom, His Royal Majesty P.O.U Isaac Obi, who was with his council of Chiefs to receive the Governor, there was a four-gun salute to herald the governor’s arrival to the modest palace reception hall held together by four conspicuous pillars. The kolanut as tradition demands was presented and “wedged” with money to prevent the kolanuts from rolling. It was received on behold of the Governor by Dr. (Hon.) Alphonsus Ojo.
The welcome pleasantries concluded, the Odu Osa speaking through one of his men told the Governor that “since 2008, we suffered a big blow in our market that had been in a state of disrepair. The council tried to rebuild the market but could not for paucity of funds”. Their request was that the Governor should assist the Ndokwa West Local Government Council to rebuild the Utagba-Ogbe market. They also requested for the construction of a bridge over Ase River to link communities and ease transportation, particularly for formers and also boost trading activities. “Nsugbe Road has been abandoned, but just yesterday (Thursday, October 19, 2017) we saw that some equipment were being moved to site” the Odu Osa spokes man said, adding. “We want every job to be executed according to specifications and BOQ, not with shovels and cutlasses. Utagba-Ogbe has no public water, people now depend on the River as their source of water supply.”
In his response, Governor Okowa told the Odu Osa and his council of Chiefs that he was going round to Commission projects and inspecting on-going projects. “We will be Commissioning the reconstructed Anwai-Ogume Road project. He requested to be furnished with details of projects that are dear to the heart of the people. On the damaged Utagba-Ogbe market, Okowa said: “The 2018 budget was just presented yesterday (19-10-2017). I wish I knew this earlier before now. But we hope that now that the budget is before the House, that something could still be done”.
He commended and thanked the traditional rulers in Ndokwa West for the peace in their domain.
“I am aware also that there is a plan for IPP at Okpai, and that there would be a step down somewhere in Ndokwa West,” Governor Okowa said, even as he requested the people to continue to partner with Government. He commended them for maintaining peace in Ndokwa West. He later went ahead to inspect on-going projects at the Utagba-Ogbe Technical College, Kwale where a team of officials were working to inspect facilities for the purpose of accreditng the institution. This was also where it was revealed that the NDDC has abandoned two projects in the technical college.
To complete the day’s assignment Governor Okowa and his entourage moved on to Oduophori in Patani Local Government Area to commission the rehabilitated Oduophori-Patani Road, an inherited project. The phased 4.85km road contract is being done with the sum for N1.1billion.
It was on the way to commission this road that the Okowa entourage encountered a frill. Four communities of Uto-Emu, namely Bedesigha, Omafuvwie, Asa-Etefe and Ejoko villages barricaded the road. Mostly mothers, and a sprinkle of men who carried placards, the Governor’s convoy was held motionless for about 25 minutes, causing traffic hold up. The protesters defied all entreaties, not even when Hilary Ibegbulen went to meet them. They insisted on talking directly to the Governor, who had to succumb to their demand. Governor Okowa meet them and they told him about the lack of access road links to and from the four mainly agrarian villages. “We produce the yams, plantains, fish, cassava, vegetables that feed the people, yet we have no roads to transport our produce easily to markets,” they said. Governor Okowa speaking in pidgin language for effective communication commended the people for their peaceful conduct. He said he has understood their needs, and promised that he would send officials down to come and asses the road situation. “It is after this that we shall cost and decide on contract award for the projects,” he said. Moved by the Governor’s speech, and seemingly placated, they decided to shift ground, and give him the benefit of doubt to see how well he would carry out his promise. “If we do not see anything before 2019 election we will not vote for you, “they said.
This done, the road was cleared to allow the Governor and his entourage continue the trip to the venue of the commissioning of the Oduophori- Patani Road project. After commissioning this road, Okowa then proceeded to Patani Town to commission the Asphalt overlay of Kabowei Road, where the chairman of Patani Local Government Council, Mrs. Josephine Abeki commended Governor Okowa for putting smiles on the faces of Deltans, saying : “We are indeed very happy to associate ourselves with your positive programmes and policies that are transforming Delta State beyond recognition.”
It was from this point that the Governor and his entourage retired to rest for the day long activities to prepare for the town hall meeting job for Friday, October 21, 2017.
Of course and indeed,, one significant thing could be observed about Patani. It now wore a new look of an upcoming busy and bustling town by virtue of the newly commissioned 2.45km Kabowei Road. The visitor could observe that commercial activities are picking up as the town bubbled with life.
Governor Okowa made slight allusion to this before commissioning the road that with government’s visibility in Patani, people of the Local Government would now be encouraged to settle in Patani rather than going elsewhere .
Barrister Ramos Guarah agreed that indeed, Patani now wears a new and an impressive look. He told bannernonlinenews.com: “It is true; the roads will contribute to boost the economic activity of the area. It will help our farmers to move their produce from the farms to the town, Guarah said.
Also for Mrs. Tamara Ebi Enguru, “The road will do good things. We will no longer go through very bad roads. It will very well reduce the cost of transportation.”
She acknowledged that already many Patani people resident in Ughelli are now returning because “We are getting good roads. I believe that very soon we shall have electricity also.”
On Saturday, October 21, 2017, everyone headed again for Patani for the Town hall meeting scheduled to hold at Kapo Hotel, on kapo Road. Entering the well decorated hall, one could hear the music from the sound system playing. The singer praised Chief james Onanefe Ibori, telling in the lyrics rendered in pidgin language that Deltans appreciate the Odidigborigbo. That it was when Ibori came on the scene as governor that peace came, we got bridges, we got stadium. “Onanefe Ibori, na God go bless you, “ the lyric stated.
At exactly 10:30am. Governor Okowa arrived Kapo Hotel hall for the Patani Town hall meeting. The one who spoke for Abari community complained that his community was not benefitting from the free feeding of primary school children and requested the Governor to look into the issue. Dr. Christ Ekiyor who spoke for the Patani community requested for a school of nursing to be sited in Patani, the rehabilitation of dilapidated school buildings, massive infrastructural development and empowerment of the people. For Chief Jeremiah, who spoke for Tarakiri community, he almost turned the place into a political setting when he praised Governor Okowa, describing him as a winner man for the good things being done despite paucity of funds. Jeremiah said. “Our Community is an agrarian Community. We want cassava processing industry, fish processing industry among others to be attracted to Tarakiri. We ask for empowerment and a general hospital to be provided so that our people don’t go to hospital in Bayelsa again. Tarakiri Kingdom has been left out of the political appointments in Patani local Government. We want an equitable share of appointments’.
The governor in his response said: “We are getting into better time if we continue to maintain the peace.” He commended the people of Patani for allowing peace to reign in their communities. He called attention to the damage of one of the trunk lines, but that it has now been repaired bringing about improved revenue.
“But this improvement is not as it used to be because of the low price situation of oil in the international market.”
While informing the people that Patani is the 14th place where he was holding town hall meeting with the people, the Governor spoke of impressive reports from beneficiaries of the various skill acquisition programmes of his administrations SMART Agenda. He lamented however, that many Deltans are not taking advantage of the farmers’ development programmes of the state and the Federal Government. He urged that people should liaise with the various political appointees from their area so as to know how to get involved. “Only 4,000 Deltans have so far benefited from the Federal Government’s farmers development programme, while there are states that have about 30,000 beneficiaries. Deltans must key into this programme so that majority of our farmers can benefit rather than shutting them out,” Okowa said.
He announced to the applause of the people that he has approved the rehabilitation of the Boys Model School, Patani.
On technical schools, Governor Okowa said: “We are interested in Technical education because it is the way to go now in Nigeria. It will prepare our children to be able to handle the challenges of life because they will be more employable, and could start off on their own based on the skills they have acquired at the technical school.” He announced that contract award process for the rehabilitation of Abari Road would begin in the next few weeks, pointing out also that “we would try to encourage private investors to come to establish industries along the lines that the people of Tarakiri Kingdom produce from their farms.” On the claims of political marginalization in appointments, he counseled the Tarakiri community to engage in political discussions with the political class in the local government and present their case and interest to them.
At the Ndokwa West local Government Town hall meeting in Kwale held at the Christ Anglican Church on Umusadege Road, the hall had a clear message like the one seen in Kapo Hotel Hall, Patani. The inscriptions state: ‘’Okowa is working.59 road projects completed,79 road projects on-going.”
While praising the governor for what they termed his good deeds for the benefit of Ndokwa West Local Government both the council Chairman, Hon.Ifeanyi Osakwe and the President General of Ndokwa Nekwu Union, High Chief Johnson Opone reeled out long lists of demands and requests to the governor for his consideration.
Osakwe said:”Abe-Ogume Road is now a death trap, while hoodlums now capitalize on the situation to cause insecurity and carry out their nefarious activities.”We ask for more police posts to be set up along Ogume-Kwale Road among others. The reconstruction of the Eke-Market Road, and the adjoining Roads”.
High Chief Opone who underscored the point that this was the first time the people of Ndokwa West would host an interactive session with a governor, he said: ‘’We want the issue of potable water supply for the people look into and provided. School of Marine Technology should be moved to its permanent sit. We have agreed in Ndokwa West that your government, your Excellency, is doing well.”
Respondent to the catalogue of demands made by Ndokwa West leaders, Governor Okowa began: ‘’This is the 15th local government that we have gone through in this town hall meeting. I commend the Chairman of the Council and the President General for commending this administration. While reeling out the numerous projects done by this administration, at the end they brought a load of other requests to be done.
“We thought it was necessary to host this interactive session to tell the people what we have done, to hear from them what they need and how we can assist them to get what they need.
“We have come out a little over two years in a difficult time, but we are grateful to God that we are seeing changes as a result of the atmosphere of peace that has returned, leading to the repair of the damaged Forcados Trunk line”.
Okowa announced that the clock-in and clock-out measure introduced for local government workers is not a punishment. “It is to ensure that it is only those who come to work that get paid. We have observed that there are people who draw salaries, yet they are not at work. Some work elsewhere outside Delta State and still receive salaries. We think that this is not fair,” he explained.
He also explained that the biometric exercise going on is to detect such fraudulent practices among local government workers, stop the illegal collection of salaries and free the money so realized from the action so that more local workers and teachers can be paid salaries. ‘’We have decided that anyone caught with the fraudulent act would be handed over to the police for investigation,” Okowa said.
He told the people about the Health Insurance Scheme of the government and its importance, and acknowledged that he has committed himself to the rehabilitation of the Eke market project, even as he urge the people to understand that market is not the responsibility of the state government.
He urged the Federal Government to come out strongly with a policy that would end the menace and atrocities being committed by Fulani herdsmen, while decrying NDDC’S slow action in awarding contract for the Abe-Ogume Road project.
Okowa also urged the Marine School, Kwale campus to continue to operate from where they are while the government works to stabilize the existing higher institutions in the state, achieve proper accreditation for them to continue to justify their existence.
One message that came to the governor was from the representative of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ndokwa local government Area. The one that spoke said: “My Governor, I ask you to put this state in the hands of God. Don’t depend on political strength; don’t depend on your political associates, and your natural strength. Depend on God. This message is from CAN, Ndokwa West Local Government.”
In all, the town hall meeting was a huge success as it achieved the purpose for which it was organized. The Governor met with the people, the people met with him, there was real interaction in which he heard directly from the people, knowing their minds, and they also knowing his mind. Relationships were established between them.