By Charles Aniagwu
For a better appreciation of the good works of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s administration in Delta State, it will be rational to assess his stewardship from the standpoint of the nation’s economic adversities when the governor took over the mantle of leadership on May 29, 2015. When the governor assumed office, the country was in recession and confronted with various degrees of economic challenges as a result of the drastic drop in the crude oil prices which adversely affected the state’s allocations from the federation account.
This recurring decimal of paucity of funds, coupled with the inherited debt profile and other huge wage bills to be serviced, no doubt posed a serious threat to the speedy actualization of the government’s well-thought-out vision for the people of the state as contained in its four-point agenda.
Delta State was among the worst hit, considering that the activities of the Avengers were basically in Delta State while virtually no Oil produced from the State was exported for 18 months when the Forcados Export Crude Terminal was destroyed by the agitators and this affected the revenue allocation chart from the federation account, dropping from second highest to fourth highest crude producing state at a time of high expectations for socio-economic expansion borne out of its enviable status as a rich oil-producing state.
The situation became worse as the state in conjunction with labour leaders had to resort to payment of net salaries to workers as federal allocations dwindled to an all-time low. The nation’s economic challenges became so bad that many states, excluding Delta State, could not pay workers’ salaries, not to talk of embarking on capital projects. The era of sharing of excess crude oil funds which enabled past governments at the state and local government levels to execute sundry capital projects became a thing of the past as the governors resorted to bailout funds from the federal government to enable them to meet up the basic pressing needs of paying workers’ salaries and execution of projects, among others.
At a time Governor Ifeanyi Okowa was asking himself “is this the best time to be a governor?” But, as a devoted Christian and astute believer, he quickly repented from his doubts noting that God must have prepared him specially to be Governor at a time when resources were at an all-time low to prudently manage the resources of the State at a time like this. Okowa in his wisdom, sheer dexterity and passion for the wellbeing of the people as well as rapid development of the state, remained undaunted in his vision to build Delta State of the founding fathers’ dreams – to deploy government services to create fair and equal opportunity for every willing citizen to make a living and create wealth, educate our children, and enjoy life in a peaceful and secure environment as enshrined in his SMART AGENDA.
Recently, officials of the World Bank and the European Union (EU), in 2018 rated the Delta State Government high in the implementation of the State Employment and Expenditure For Result (SEEFOR) projects in the state. The global bodies said they were impressed with the success stories of SEEFOR programmes in the state, and urged the state government not to relent. Speaking in Asaba during a courtesy call on Governor Ifeanyi Okowa by officials of the World Bank, EU and the Federal Government, the team leader, Mr. Brar Parminder lauded the Okowa administration for ensuring that the SEEFOR projects are succeeding in the state.
On workers’ salary which was a major challenge for most states, the story is quite different in Delta State as workers continue to receive their pay as at when due. The state government aside paying workers also pays the pensioners and spends over a billion Naira monthly in servicing pension obligations. Through an impressive reform and repositioning of the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), as a result of far-reaching reforms introduced in the sector by the governor, the government was kept afloat during the peak economic recession in the country and it is striking to note that despite all of these challenges, execution of capital development projects were going on speedily across the three senatorial districts, coupled with state government’s swift interventions on failed sections of federal roads in the state.
Nicknamed the “Road Master” Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has awarded and constructed over 370 roads under Ministry of Works alone, spanning 1,170.40km and 415.82km length of Drains with over 80 per cent of them completed and commissioned while some are awaiting commissioning. In Aniocha North alone Issele-Uku/Issele-Mkpitime/Onicha-Olona road, phase I of Issele-Uku/Onicha-Uku/Ugbodu/Ukwu-Nzu/Obomkpa/Idumu-Ogo road, rehabilitated Issele-Uku/Onicha-Ugbo road, and phase I of Onicha-Ugbo/Ubulu-Uku road.
Others include, the dualised Jesse Township Road, the Jesse Boboroku Road in Ethiope West Local Government Area as well as the Owerre-Olubor/Ekwuoma Road in Ika North East LGA and the recently commissioned Old Lagos Asaba Road Agbor, the Owa-Eke Owa-Alero Road, the Amekpa/Afiesere/Ofuoma road linking Ughelli North and Ethiope East, Old Ozoro Oleh Road linking Isoko North and Isoko South as well as the Owhelogbo Abbi road linking Isoko North and Ndokwa West, the Aviara/Araya/Okpare/Okpawa road, Irri College/Uzere road and the Owhelogbo Abbi Road in Isoko South and Isoko North Local Government Areas, construction of the Ekakpamre/Okwagbe communities road project and Owhahwa/Otu-Jeremi Road are some of the Governor’s achievements on rural road construction.
The dualisation of Amukpe Sapele Road, dualisation of Cable point road to traffic light in Asaba, dualisation of the Old Lagos Asaba Road in Agbor, the dualisation of Owa-Ekei Owa-Aliero road, dualisation of Emore Road Oleh, the concrete pavement of all internal roads in Burutu town as well as the widening of Summit Road Asaba are part of his administration’s urban renewal agenda for the state.
Apart from road projects, the Okowa administration has also taken bold steps in other spheres of development which include the reconstruction of the Asaba International Airport runway and taxiway, Construction of a befitting State Library building in Asaba, the construction of multi-billion storm drainage projects to solve the perennial flooding challenges in Asaba the state capital and other remarkable achievements too numerous to mention, have endeared him to the people of the state and beyond and equally earned him a gale of endorsements for his re-election by virtually all strata of groups in the state, including the religious and traditional institutions.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa determined, convinced and confident that the novel job creation scheme, geared at nurturing, supporting and promoting micro, small and medium scale enterprises would trigger off economic growth, social inclusion and sustainable development, established the Office of the Chief Jobs Creation Officer. In order to insulate the office from political patronage, the Governor in his wisdom appointed a Professor of Agricultural Economics, Prof Eric Eboh, a renowned Policy Economist and Development Specialist from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), to run the office without any interference from the political class. That singular decision has paid off tremendously following the successful implementation of the enterprise development Programme in the form of the Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP). The State Government has trained and established 20,334 graduands directly through technical and vocational education and agriculture. Through the Job Creation Scheme, 4,253 unemployed youths between 2015 and 2018 have become business owners across the various skills such as information, communication technology, catering, event management, beauty services, agricultural production and processing, food packaging, tilling, plumbing, and electrical installation among others.
Following a satisfactory independent evaluation of the successes recorded in the job creation scheme, the World Bank/European Union SEEFOR Project provided funding support for the 2017-2018 cycle of the STEP and YAGEP schemes while Delta born billionaire and entrepreneur champion Mr. Tony Elumelu through his Tony Elumelu Foundation pledged financial support of N500m to support the STEP and YAGEP programmes. It will be recalled that more than 100,000 direct and indirect private sector jobs were created through youth empowerment interventions and programmes in infrastructure development, Contributory Health Insurance, Technical Education, Public Environmental works and other socio-economic activities. The Governor equally established a monitoring and mentoring agency for all Job Creation graduands/beneficiaries. The good news today is that some entrepreneurs raised by the programme had become employers of labour which multiplier effects on the family and that of the state remained significant.
Speaking on the successes recorded by the Okowa led administration on Job Creation, the Orodje of Okpe, HRM Major General Felix Mujakperuo, Orhue I, noted that “the era of white collar jobs are gone because they are very limited. We have seen a lot of them who were trained and empowered and have employed other persons to work with them. Some of them in fashion designing and tailoring are already exporting their products outside Nigeria. The Job Creation Scheme is a huge success and I hope it is sustained because yearly people are graduating from the Universities and the Polytechnics and it will be a problem if these youths are not engaged,” he added.
To date, the Okowa administration has established additional 12 public primary and 34 secondary schools across the state to improve access to education in rural and difficult to reach terrains as well as decongest existing schools in urban areas. Delta State with a total of 1,124 public primary schools, 1,838 private primary schools, 465 Secondary Schools, 6 Technical Colleges, 10 Vocational Centres and 941 private secondary schools has a total enrolment of 322,871 primary school pupils at the end of the 2017/2018 session while secondary schools registration stood at 281,424 and Technical Colleges registration at 4,979 in the corresponding period.
In order to improve on the quality of infrastructure in public schools in Delta State, Governor Okowa paid a total of N5.2bn counterpart funds of the Universal Basic Education Fund for the years 2013-2017and accessed marching grants of 5.2bn bringing total investments on public school infrastructure to N10.4bn. In all, a total of 5,667 classrooms were constructed and renovated through the joint efforts of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, State Universal Basic Education Board SUBEB, and the Delta State Oil Producing Communities Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC. In other to curb the incidences of pupils and students sitting on the floor to learn, the Okowa led administration procured a total of 140,478 students furniture and 22,440 teachers furniture. To improve security in the public schools, a total of 87 block wall fence were constructed, 41 Science Laboratory Blocks were constructed and renovated as well as 30 Solar Powered Boreholes were constructed to provide Acess to portable Water and Sanitation in the schools in line with Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs.
Another area the Okowa led administration hit the bull’s eye is Technical Education and Vocational Education. On assumption of office in 2015, he sent a bill to the State House of Assembly for an enabling law to establish the Delta State Technical and Vocational Education Board (TVEB). He appointed a young and energetic Comrade, Engr. Michael Akpobire as the Executive Secretary with a mandate to ensure the full operationalisation of the fully rehabilitated 6 Technical Colleges and Vocational Education Centres across the state. With the success recorded by the huge investments in the technical education sector, Governor Okowa has assured Deltans of better days ahead as his administration intends to establish 19 more technical colleges in the state to ensure that every local government area has one each.
In order to improve capacity building in the training and retraining of teachers in the state, the Okowa administration established the Teachers Professional Development Centre (TPDC) Owa-Oyibu in Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta for the upgrade, retooling and training of teachers at all levels of education and at all times in the state. Under the auspices of the TPDC, the government commenced training of 6,504 personnel in the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, PPEB, TVEB, SUBEB, AANFE, N-Power, and Volunteer Teachers at the community level and the training of 100 French Teachers across the state in 2016. And in a bid to fill in vacancies created by the retirement and death of some teachers in the state, the process of recruiting 1,000 teachers with an emphasis on strategic core areas in Sciences, Technical Education
Universal Health Coverage
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa being a medical doctor did not fail to make his mark in this sector. His administration has just completed the abandoned General Hospital in Asaba and upgraded physical infrastructure to enhance institutional capacity for service delivery. The State Government has also launched the Contributory Health Insurance Scheme for all Deltans with the government paying for the Under 5, pregnant women and the elderly in the society. Since the establishment of the Delta State Contributory Health Commission, DSCHC, a total of 500,000 and counting have so far registered for the Contributory Health Insurance and to encourage effective health coverage, the state government has completed rehabilitation works on 63 Secondary Health Care facilities and 110 Primary Health Care facilities as well as the engagement of 52 standard Private Health Care providers for the scheme.
Beyond physical infrastructure in the Hospitals, modern health equipment were procured, replaced and rehabilitated to ensure the use of appropriate technology. Emergency Ambulance Service relaunched to provide pre-hospital acute medical care and transport to definitive points of care. Governor Okowa led administration also successfully ensured the containment of various disease outbreaks within the state. Other successes recorded in the Health Sector, include the Construction of Abavo General Hospital, Construction of modern Isolation Ward at the Federal Medical Centre Asaba, accreditation of most programmes in the state’s health manpower training institutions at School of Nursing Agbor, Eku, and Warri; School of Health Technology Ofuoma and Delta State University Teaching Hospital DELSUTH, Oghara. Mobile Field Hospital and Boat Clinic reactivated and now functional while 12 Flood IDP Camp Clinics and 3 Medical Outposts currently established and functional in the state.
It is also on record that the 05 Initiative (NGO of the Wife of the Governor, Dame Edith Okowa) established over 12 sick cell clinics across the state and also embarked on free medical mission with the free eye surgery and glasses in the 25 local government areas of the state with a total of 26,304 patients attended to, out of which 15,811 were given free reading glasses while 9,386 were given eye drops and 2,241 eye surgeries were performed during the exercise in 2018.
Sports Development under Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has received a tremendous boost with the completion of the World Class Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba, Ozoro Polytechnic Stadium at Ozoro as well as the successful hosting of 52 countries for the African Senior Athletics Championships Asaba 2018. The State Government also hosted the AITEO Cup Finals in conjunction with the Nigeria Football Federation and got FIFA certification of Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba as a venue for International Matches which led to the successful hosting of the Cranes of Uganda in an International friendly with the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa also revamped school sports in the state with the relaunching of the annual Principals Cup Football Competition for Secondary Schools now known as the Zenith Bank Delta Principals Cup, the Annual Headmasters’ Cup Football Competition for Primary Schools as well as the maiden edition of the School Sports Festival which was held in May 2019. Delta State’s dominance in sports in the country was again re-enacted with Delta coming tops in first position in all three (3) editions of the National Youth Games held in Ilorin, Kwara State in 2016, 2017 and 2018 as well as the first position in the 2018 National Sports Festival held in Abuja.
Gov. Okowa who was recently named the “2018 Vanguard Personality of the Year” for his diligent delivery of democratic dividends and working to make Nigeria’s democracy better. He provided good governance; rapid rural development; traders and youth empowerments; worked harmoniously with his Deputy Deacon Kingsley Burutu Otuaro to ensure peace and harmony among the political class and critical support for security agencies, among others, and has indeed kept faith with his campaign promises to the people of Delta State. His overwhelming victory at the just concluded polls did not come as a surprise to Deltans because of the rate of performance of the Governor in his first term giving the hard times that characterised the economy between 2015 to 2017. Already, the State Government has opened a bid for the concessoning of the Asaba International Airport to position it as the hub of aviation business in the South-South and South East regions of the country.
As the Governor is sworn-in today to commence his second term in office, It is safe to say that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has redefined governance and taken sustainable development and prosperity for all Deltans beyond mere promises as usually the case with most politicians. The next four years promise to be the best years for Deltans as the Governor has assured Deltans of a “Stronger Delta” with faith in God and with the unity and peaceful coexistence of all Deltans.
*Aniagwu, is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okowa