ON the occasion of Nigeria’s 60th Independence anniversary, the Governor of Delta State, Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, took time to ruminate and elucidate on the challenges facing the nation, narrowing it down to his activities as Governor of a very critical state; a multi-ethnic state that has a lot of people who probably believe they can do it better.
The Special Assistant, Media, to Governor Okowa, Fidelis Egugbo, wrote that, listening to the governor on Thursday morning at the Government House Chapel, Asaba, at an inter-denominational thanksgiving service to mark the independence day, one can only heave a sigh of relief that there is hope for Nigeria.
Yes! There is every likelihood that there are still others who are like Governor Okowa; people who are still sincere and purposeful in leadership. Even if there was a dearth of similarly committed and sincere leadership in governance, the changes we all hope and long for, will gradually crystalize, simply because his activities are bound to be infectious. Like a stone throne into the water, the ripples will spread and many people will have attitudinal change. That is the hope and prayer.
As Okowa erupted in an emotion-laden tone, the words of former President Goodluck Jonathan as published in the inspirational quote of Newsden that Thursday morning readily came to mind: “We want to lead a country where people will be less greedy. Where people will know that the commonwealth of Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians, where people’s wealth depends on the people around you. If you become a rich person and everyone around you is poor, you are very poor.”
Okowa delved into areas that most politicians could have seen as exclusive, revealing why he had a lot of political appointees, the challenges of the country and his dreams.
Though, we are in the heart of the wet season, not many residents of Asaba and its adjoining communities would do as much as remember their nightmarish experience in the past, when they had ceaselessly prayed, begging for the heavens to reman shut just to hold back the rains. Why? Whenever it rained, tales of woes and anguish abounded. There were stories of havoc; stories of how floods swept away persons, how cars got stuck, how houses were submerged and valuable property lost.
However, Okowa’s intervention was bold and decisive. Against all odds, including harsh criticisms from some quarters, he moved courageously to address the nagging flood situation. He certainly has shown himself as one who believes in proffering lasting solutions rather than window dressing.
Today, he is replicating the situation in Warri. Though, the people may be complaining – which is normal – he has shown commitment towards addressing the long neglect of the oil-rich and commercial city in terms of spatial orientation.
Though, he did not talk much about his achievements, it will not be out of place to state that a single project of the numerous projects so far initiated and executed by Governor Okowa could well be taken in other climes as a towering achievement of an administration for eight years.
For instance, the Central Secretariat Complex project, Asaba could have been accepted as an achievement of an administration if it were to be the only thing that an administration did in its entire lifespan.
Also, the construction of the Stephen Keshi Stadium could also be seen as an achievement, and again, Governor Okowa is building simultaneously nine technical colleges from the scratch. The administration has also built a training college for the inspectorate cadre of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). If an administration had succeeded in building one of such for eight years, that administration would have also been applauded for its great achievements.
Some states may pride themselves in having constructed an airport, but today it is no longer a big deal to state that the Asaba Airport is of international standard and is functional.
In the same vein, apparently, very few people scarcely remember that most of the motorable roads they are driving through in different parts of the state were constructed by Governor Okowa. Needless to say, it was the unprecedented rate of road construction that earned him the sobriquet, “Road Master.”
It is easy for many people to take these landmark strides in governance for granted simply because Governor Okowa is not interested in blowing his trumpet. However, to some of us as event watchers, one of the greatest blessings that Deltans have today is having a governor who works round the clock.
As he would often say, “Why would I sleep when there is much work to be done?” Hardly would you hear about Governor Okowa spending more than 24 hours outside the state. He is always on ground, ensuring that things are done right. To put it succinctly, Deltans have someone who is not a “Visiting Governor” on the mantle of leadership.
On a lighter note, though it struck a cord Thursday morning, someone said, “Why won’t Deltans celebrate? They have a governor who believes more in working than socializing. To his moral credit, Okowa does not keep concubines in Abuja, Lagos, Dubai or other parts of the world. So, you couldn’t also say that he goes to clubs to unwind. Thus, at all times, he is sane, fit, focused and on his desk working for the good of the people.”
On coming on board as Governor, Okowa promised Deltans prosperity. Today, there is no community in the state that one would not find an entrepreneur who was discovered, trained and nurtured by Governor Okowa to be an employer of labour. The multiplier benefits of having a lot of entrepreneurs spread across the land have started manifesting in the reduction of crimes and the commitment of most of the youths to utilizing their talents through engagement in meaningful activities.
When one decides to write about Okowa, it is difficult to stop. What will you write and what will you leave out? But, what we are concerned about is his independence speech, a speech he made extempore as someone who does not need prodding, because he is in the know.
In our characteristic manner of giving you the latitude to form your opinion, we present to you unabridged, unadulterated speech of Governor Okowa during the thanksgiving service. Happy reading:
First, I want to welcome all of you to this thanksgiving service to mark the 60th year of our existence as an independent nation. We thank God for this day. We rejoice and we are glad in it. Despite the situation that we find ourselves as a country, we have every reason to give glory to God.
We have listened to the preacher, our perceptions may be obviously different, because of the kind of situation we find ourselves as a nation. However, the real truth is, we fought for independence, we got it. And since then, we have gone through ups and downs as a nation. There is no doubt about it all. Yet, I believe that no matter the challenges, we have also made some progress.
Is the labour of our founding fathers, or our heroes past in vain? I, obviously, will say it is not in vain. Though, we expect that we would have made progress far beyond where we are today, but the important thing is that, there has been some level of progress.
Have we failed ourselves? It is not about the rulers only; it is about each and every one of us as Nigerians. Have we failed ourselves? This is a question each and every one of us will have to answer.
There are also questions for those who rule at the top, those at the national and sub-national levels; both in the years past and even presently. But, there are questions we must also ask ourselves, even as parents, and as neighbours.
There are questions that we all have to ask ourselves. Have we failed ourselves? Have we done the very bit that we ought to have done to make our nation better, to make our immediate communities better, even to make our families better? Have we brought up our children in the way we ought to? These are some of the questions that we all have to ask ourselves.
Have we made some progress at all? Many people will think that we have not made progress. But, if we look through, with all thanks to our military personnel who are here, who have also realized that we need to move with the rest of the world since 1999. For 21 years, we have had a consistent democracy.
Whether or not we feel the impact of the development the way it ought to be, the fact is that we have made some progress. There were times where we could not have our democracy beyond one tenure, but now, at least even when the elections are not completely free and fair, it appears that we are learning lessons daily.
The important thing is, we have an opportunity to determine to some extent those who should govern us. We expect that it will be better and that the elections will be free, fair, and just, and that the vote of the people will continue to count even as the vote of the people counted in Edo State.
Is there more work to be done? Obviously, yes! And, our members of the National Assembly, I want to thank all of you, because we are actually celebrating this 60th independence anniversary in low key, but I am glad to see a lot of you here.
For those of you in the National Assembly, there is a need to visit the Electoral Act and I believe that everything that needs to be done for us to have free and fair elections, let us ensure that they are allowed. Thereafter, we will begin to look at how we will manage the situation.
We need to cooperate with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and ensure that we allow that which they have set out to achieve — an E-voting System.
I think it is in the best interest of this country. We know there are challenges with our voting system, but we must also realize that everything can be perfected with time.
The vote of the people must continue to count and we must be sure that the people are the true determinants of those who lead them.
There have been divisions in this country and I think that it is time for all of us to have a rethink. The governments at the national and sub-national levels, the elite and several persons should have a rethink; because the average Nigerian who lives in poverty is not able to determine the course of Nigeria. That person is not able to influence the society in such a manner that the person can cause crisis and disunity.
The disunity in this country is attributable to religion, divisions in terms of tribe but, very strongly, what I will call elitism. In most cases, we tend to put ourselves first before the nation, put ourselves first before the rest of us who form the majority of this country. This has kept us divided; we manipulate our words.
We ought to rework these processes and ensure those of us at the helm of affairs – not just those in government – in businesses, the traditional institutions and all people who are opinion holders, including our churches, the leadership of Islam, should ensure that we play the role that is appropriate to truly touch the lives of our people in a positive way.
We must find ways to begin to rekindle hope for our people. There are challenges along the line, and I believe that we have not submitted ourselves completely to our Creator, our God. If we do, I know that we will be doing much better as government, not only the government of the nation and the states and local government, but in our various businesses, our business empires, even in our small businesses, because no matter where you may find yourself, you are a government of your own presiding over some people.
It is important that we have to submit to our God.
The families need to submit to our God, because with that submission, you find that there is great love, you are tutored to do the right things and if everybody is doing the right thing starting from the home, in our various businesses, the government will have even much less to do in terms of criminality.
We have deteriorated very, very badly as a nation in terms of safety. As we grew up, I recall that we could travel at night, we did not need security, but now, in broad daylight, we find it difficult to move.
We must rethink our processes.
I believe, that even as we begin to do as many things as possible, to truly touch the lives of our people and to get many people out of the poverty bracket, there is also an urgent need for us to rethink this question of population growth.
We continue to pride ourselves as a country with a huge population and a huge population that is very youthful. I do believe a huge population that is youthful can only truly be useful to the nation if that huge population of youths are educated and they have access to good health, good parental upbringing, and they truly know what nationhood is about.
Until we are able to achieve that, the huge population will continue to haunt us because the number of persons who live below the poverty line or bracket would obviously continue to increase. It becomes cyclical, and you find that the poorer families become poorer year after year.
I believe that we need to find ways to begin to control our population as a nation so that our economy will not be outpaced by the growth of the population. That is the situation at the moment. The growth in population far outpaces the growth in our economy and if economic growth is not inclusive, the result is that we will continue to have many more millions of people of people going into the poverty bracket.
Is restoration possible? Yes, but, through return to God and through our repentance — starting from the leadership, through to the followership. Joel 2:12 and 13 and Joel 2:25. If you get back home, you can read it.
If truly we repent and return to the Lord, our God and change our ways collectively as a nation and we begin to advocate for more proper behaviour, I am sure that gradually, we will return back to normal. I am very pleased with the passage read today. In 1 Peter 2:17, we are told and advised to ‘honour all men, love the brotherhood, fear God.’ That is very instructive for those of us that are politicians and for each and every one of us.
We are all created by God. Therefore, it is important that we honour all men, respect all men, fear God, love your neighbour as yourself. And, I think God has spoken to us.
We are also told in the book of 1 Peter 5:3 and 5 that, ‘the leaders must be examples to the flock.’ You cannot just Lord it over them. We must rethink our ways, we must relate with the people, we must give reassurances to them, we must listen to them even if we are not able to do all that we ought to do. Give them a listening ear, find time to advise and find time to also create opportunities for people to be able to exhibit their talents.
Some people have talked about what is going on in government. One particular person that continues to criticize me is asking some of us that are political appointees that, ‘you are an appointee, you are defending Okowa, has he bought you a car as an appointee? Has he provided a vehicle for you as an appointee?’
At a time where things are difficult for many people, you must be able to make your choices. God has made me the governor today, I can do with a hundred or two hundred political appointees and provide vehicles for them and they will live big and large and many people will be out there suffering in abject poverty and they will not have the opportunities to exhibit themselves.
I have appealed to those who are appointed. Yes, we may not be able to satisfy you as a person, but we need to give opportunities to as many people as possible to exhibit their talents and to be able to utilize themselves for the good of this state.
I have no apologies about the numbers of appointees. They run into several hundreds, but, I know that many of them are putting their positions to good use.
So, for those of us who are singing, ‘Oh! we have not been able to get a vehicle,’ there is nothing that says in an appointment that you are entitled to a vehicle.
The real truth is, could we have done that? It is possible. But the only way we could do that is to truly drop the number of appointees and, I am sure, that many of the appointees will not want to submit their letters of appointment to get a vehicle!
So, we must leave this space, especially at this point in time that a lot of our youths want to exhibit their talents.
The Commissioner for Youth Development, for instance, I never knew him before 2014. It was in the course of the campaign that I got to know him. I was wondering and seeing the kind of things he was doing from afar. Today, without recommendation he became a commissioner, because he was able to exhibit himself. Many other persons have made their marks in the cause of this government.
The truth is that the opportunities provided have made it possible for them to rise and to exhibit themselves.
I rather want to plead with all appointees, wherever you find yourself, utilise the position to serve Deltans. Think right, think of something that is important for our nation, for our state, discuss it with people, put it right and we will see how best we can get your vision to work.
Finally, I plead with each and every one of us to be clothed with humility. If we are all humble, if we all respect ourselves, we can have a better nation and as many of us that are political appointees reach back to your homes. You can do a lot to uplift one or two persons, government works through you.
By the time every political appointee is able to uplift one, two, three, four, five, ten or more persons, we will definitely be reaching out to a great number in our state.
It is my prayer that God will continue to direct this nation aright and that we will, as a nation, call for real repentance in our houses, in our homes and as a nation. And, I believe that God will heal the land and make us move faster in development, more than we are doing at the moment.
I will not ignore what was said concerning Enerhen Junction. The situation is that, anything that we come out to do, we must get it right. Just give us a little more time; immediately after the rains, any road construction we are doing in the raining season is actually what they will call “patch-patch”.
In the Warri area, we found that even most times we come out to use asphalt and within one year, it is all gone, because the rain is a major problem to asphalt. We are actually using concrete for most of our roads. Concrete base and thereafter, put an asphalt overlay.
It is going to take us time and again, Warri needs to be drained. Just as we are struggling to drain Asaba properly, Warri needs to be drained too.
We have started the process, but the rains came early. I know that by God’s grace, immediately after the rains, there is going to be a lot of work that will commence in Warri by CCECC Nigerian Limited and Levant Nigerian Limited.
We awarded two jobs for the drainages in Warri. Those are the first set of the four jobs that ought to be awarded. I believe that by the time we finish the process, Warri will be properly drained and when Warri is properly drained the issues that we have at the moment with the roads getting destroyed on a yearly basis will not be so.
I will use this opportunity to appeal to the Federal Government to attend to the Benin-Warri road. It requires total reconstruction. We will see what we can do as soon as the rains are over but that road requires total reconstruction, which is beyond our limit as a state. We hope that the Federal Government will look into that.
Between Agbor and Eku, is very bad, almost impassable. We intervened in 2019, a palliative intervention. In 2018, we also intervened on that road. We intend to intervene again soon after the rains.
We have been talking with the Federal Ministry of Works, but that road is already under contract, though the contract is slowed down because of paucity of funds at the federal level to meet with the needs of the construction.
So, what we have to do is just palliative that can get the road motorable, hoping that funds will be available for government at the federal level to drive the contract.
I believe that the work in the Ughelli/Kwale/Asaba Road is going on as fast as it is humanly possible. We will continue to do our best to fund that road project.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria, our nation. May God bless Delta State.
I wish each and every one of us a happy Independence Day. A day for reflection, for prayers, and a day in which we ought to celebrate, thanking God and asking Him to help us move much faster as a government to touch the lives of our people.
May God bless us all.”
By FIDELIS EGUGBO
Special Assistant, Media, To Governor Ifeanyi Okowa