By Clifford Ndujihe
Hon. Oma Djebah, an International Journalist, former Commissioner for Information, Delta State (2007-2011) has served in various capacities in a career spanning over two decades. He was a member of Obasanjo’s Presidential Committee on NEPAD in 2002; member of the Ministerial Committee on Reforms of the Nigerian Police in 1999 and member of United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s Panel on Governance and Development in Africa in 2005, and currently Senior Adviser to the Governor of Delta State on Foreign Relations among others. In this interview, Djebah, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) speaks among others on the forthcoming general elections and why Deltans should elect Senator Ifeanyi Okowa of the PDP as governor.
Going by what you see in the media, the fundamental challenges facing the country have not been adequately focused on but I think as the campaigns evolve, these issues will begin to be discussed in greater detail. The parties already have their manifestos which I believe point to issues like security, corruption, the economy and so on and how the respective parties hope to address them. It is just for their various candidates and candidates to convey the message to the electorates as they embark on their campaigns.
What issues do you think should be brought to the front burner?
From an objective point of view, I will say that the paramount issues revolve around concerns for the country’s economic future, national unity and insecurity. Many other cross cutting issues like infrastructure, corruption etc. can be accommodated under these key concerns. Various other subjective factors inform the citizens’ decision on what issue is most important. For instance, employment is foremost as well as housing.
How do you think in-coming governments should tackle these issues?
First of all, a lot depends more on the team assembled by the government as much as it does on the winning party or candidate. Besides the ability of the winning candidate to assemble a competent and formidable team across sectors the candidate must also apply the political will required to drive the programmes of the government. As you know, the price of oil, which accounts for about 90 percent of Nigeria’s export earnings, has tumbled in recent times and some analysts believe that it can go as low as $29 this year before a possible rebound. This implies that the federal and state governments will be faced with the challenges of grappling with less than a third of their receipts over the last four years while having to fashion out ways to bridge the deficits and grow their earnings.
This means that the in-coming governments at all levels will desperately require people who can think out of the box and make something out of nothing.
On how the government can tackle some of the burning issues, since the in-coming governments may have to look more inwards for revenue generation through taxes, they must find ways to create wealth for individuals and companies who will make the taxable profits. The government therefore will need to systematically get their hands off certain businesses better managed by the state while also plugging the holes in the government’s own purses.
As a member of the ruling party, PDP, do you think your party has fielded the candidates with the capacity to think out of the box?
To a large extent yes but that is not to say the opposition has not done the same. Like I said before, the success of any government does not solely depend on the head of the government. It’s a team work which means that a lot depends on the effort of competent and qualified foot soldiers; the ministers, commissioners, heads of agencies as the case may be, who in turn must be backed by the necessary political will to succeed. It is this political will the head of the government must epitomize.
In your home state, Delta State, what do you think Senator Okowa, the PDP standard bearer has going for him?
Senator Okowa obviously has a lot going for him. He is the best material for the position of Governor of Delta State. And I am very proud that our party, the PDP, picked him as the party’s candidate. Apart from being a grass roots politician with a superb understanding of the challenges facing the people of Delta State, I also think he has the proven capacity to govern successfully as well as the requisite ability to assemble a team of competent men and women to support him. He equally enjoys broad based support which will be instrumental in driving the needed policy changes that will yield the desired success of his administration. These are some of the essential reasons I think the party believes in him and which informed his choice as our party’s flag-bearer.
The good news is that he is not going to begin from the scratch because Delta State is not one of the states that have been taken unawares by the tumbling oil prices. The situation you see today with the oil prices was foretold a long time ago by the incumbent Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan who envisioned the now popular Delta beyond Oil strategy. The components of this strategy are already well documented so I need not dwell much on them but the point is that the foundation has been relatively laid for Senator Okowa’s hitch-free take off.
Also, only recently, the United Nations (UN) in Nigeria released their report on the assessment of performance of various sectors in Delta State which evaluated the progress of the state and made vital recommendations for the state’s attainment of the MDG’s as well sustainable development goals. All these provide valuable take off points for an in-coming government and I am certain that a cerebral person like Senator Okowa will make the best of them. I say this assuredly because I had the benefit of knowing the distinguished Senator very well. I am not saying this because he is the flagbearer of our party but long ago, way back three years ago, I told four of my colleagues, in the course of a debate as to who best fits Delta State governorship seat that the right person from all angle and all sincerity, is Okowa. I think we were in Abuja that time, in a car, when the debate ensued.
Why do I say so? First, I had the opportunity of serving along with Senator Okowa in 2007, first at the transition committee headed by General Alex Ogomudia, a retired General and former Chief of Defence Staff, where Senator Okowa was the secretary. He did that job with clinical effectiveness that my admiration for him increased because I just came from Lagos as a journalist. I was also in the first cabinet of Governor Uduaghan in which Senator Okowa served as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG).
My experience working with him at that time availed me with an insight into some of his key capabilities such as his nature as a consensus builder, his people skills which can enable him ferret the best minds to work with as well as his discipline which can be translated to tremendous political will. For example, Okowa, as SSG, had the capacity to seamlessly acquaint himself with the technical details of official memos routed through his office and will then make incisive policy comments that assisted most commissioners to better align technical issues with the policy direction of the state. You will recall that Okowa had earlier served as a Local Government Chairman as well as Delta State’s Commissioner for Health.
The added experience he has gained as a distinguished senator puts him well ahead of other contestants especially in terms of being hands on with current governance issues.