Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa is the senator representing Delta North Senatorial District. Senator Okowa’s recent political feat in upturning political permutations in the contest for the governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in his native Delta State was only reflective of the deep rooted political sagacity of the medical doctor turned politician.
Senator Okowa’s political ascendancy has been on the horizon since his days first as a local government secretary, local government chairman and subsequently, commissioner in the second civilian government of Delta State. When push came to shove last December as political intrigues overwhelmed the permutations for the governorship ticket of the PDP, Senator Okowa called in his robust political network across Delta to confront the establishment that had been decked against him.
It was a battle of wits that Senator Okowa in this interview says saw the manifestation of God’s will. Humble in victory, Senator Okowa affirms that the intrigues remain in the past as he attests to an unusual cordiality among the former political gladiators. He also speaks on his plans for the state among other issues. Excerpts:
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Joseph Erunke
In spite of the speculated endorsement of a certain candidate at the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, primaries in Delta State by the state government and the alleged gang up of aspirants from a particular side of the state, you still emerged victorious at the primaries, what was the magic?
Well, my victory is all about God. It was because of God’s grace and I want to believe that God has a purpose for Delta State and to that extent; I did the best of work. God gave me the strength to move round my people, I have been consistent with the people. I am not an accidental politician. I have been there with the people, rising through the grassroots politics and offices that I held as an elected local government chairman.
I have been commissioner in the state; I have been Secretary to the State Government and today, I am representing them in the Senate. So, the people know me and I know them, they understand me and I understand them and I believe too, that over the years, they have come to trust me just as I trust them. As long as the people’s will is there, it’s very difficult to stop God’s will.
Can we know your agenda for Delta State?
Well, in the first instance, we are still growing as a state and I agree that there are some levels of infrastructure being put because we have the roads being rehabilitated. We also have the health sector in which the current governor carried out. But in going forward, there are a lot of things and new challenges that we have.
First is the growing unemployment nationally, it’s not about Delta State alone. So we must find a way of tackling the unemployment problem and if you are going to tackle the unemployment problem, we need to look at the various aspects of economy.
The agricultural sector has to gain real prominence in whatever we do and in government policy, so we will definitely need a reform approach to developing agriculture.
We also need to look at industralisation and how best can we do it because government cannot continue to employ people, otherwise, you will just keep on increasing the recurrent expenditure and you carry it out to capital expenditure. A lot of our people are still farmers, many of them into crop farming-both cash crops and perennial crops.
Issue of power
Two, is the issue of power. In the power sector, the president is doing quite a lot but it has not stabilized and you find that most of the companies do businesses on independent power. So, in other to reduce or cushion effect of these two negative factors that affect businesses, we intend to establish industrial parks, one in each of the senatorial districts where we will provide common services and the needed infrastructure and we would also provide sustainable power to that extent.
We intend to have industrial estates in each of the three senatorial districts and then ensure that our people are able to get employment because when the cost of doing business is less, industries can be attracted from everywhere to Delta State, then you must also provide something at the background, in ensuring that there is peace in the state.
We are going to put processes in place to ensure that we actively bring peace in the state and that means we are going to have regular sessions and forums with the traditional rulers and opinion leaders across the state and call on our well meaning elders to constitute themselves into committees that can proactively bring peace and not wait for crises to come before we look into that. Beyond these, the health sector and the education sectors are very key and very important. In the health sector, the first thing I am going to pursue is to ensure that we start the process of our people getting engaged in having health insurance policy. People all over the world, even Ghana that is nearby here, you will find out that a lot is being done to encourage people to buy into health care policies. We will support the people, we will encourage them to pay some minimum contribution and we give support to them.
The whole idea is to ensure that when we have health policies at least for basic ailment, people do not die needlessly, people do not have to go borrow money when their children are sick.
In the education sector, yes, by God’s grace, we have a lot of institutions. Four polytechnics are there at the moment and we have colleges of education in two places, we have schools of nursing in three places and a university with three campuses.
We need to bring these ones to proper standard but first is to ensure that we put up a team of experts to rework our curriculum in such a way that it could be better productive, with respect particularly to the polytechnic education because anybody coming out from the polytechnic should be able to feel confident enough to stand on his own or stand in a group to set up something for themselves.
We will provide a platform that will enable our children to come out and be ready for such. To that extent, we are going to raise the technology incubation centres established in which we can grow those who acquire some reasonable level of skill with the hope that within two to three years, they have graduated and able to stand on their own. Of course, they will be financial programme to support them.
Most times, finance is a problem, how do you intend to finance some of these projects you have enumerated here if you emerge as governor?
Well, by the special grace of God, apart from the revenues that we expect, Delta State has the potential of generating quite some reasonable revenue internally, so we need to look into the process of what is going on now with the state Board of Internal Revenue and find ways and means of improving our target in terms of revenue generation.
I believe that when we continue to stay accountable and focused, and ensure that we have value for money in the contracts that we will give, we will be able to. We are not expecting that everything will be done in one year but progressive planning and being accountable is very important.
There are fears that given that your emergence was contrary to the governor’s expectation, he may work against your victory at the poll, don’t you see that coming?
No, the governor is governor of the state, he is a PDP governor and so, I will not expect that he will work against the party. He is my friend and we have been putting up our structures together, the structure of the party because it is not just about me, it’s about the candidate of the PDP.
Structure of the party
He is a gentle man and I believe too, that he is in love with the PDP so I don’t see him doing anything to the contrary.
How has your relationship with the governor been since your emergence as PDP governorship candidate in Delta State?
Our relationship has been very cordial; we have been friends for 17 years, even before I came into office as commissioner.
Since your emergence, some ethnic nationalities in the state have been threatening here and there, how do you intend to confront the opposition, especially the ones coming from Labour Party and maybe, APC?
Well, I know that they have a candidate in APC and O’Tega is my friend and Chief Great Ogboru intends to run from Labour Party. They have the right to run and we will play politics on the field. I will present my programmes to the people and I am sure they will also present theirs. We will campaign but I am sure that at the end, I will excel.
On the issue concerning ethnic colouration, my appeal is that while we have the right to take decisions, while we have the right to offer advice to our people, whatever advice or decision we take should be such that we are able to create a united front.
I don’t think that at this stage, we should be talking about candidate of a particular ethnic group; I don’t think that it’s right because whoever is going to emerge as governor of Delta State is going to be governor for the entire state. I don’t think that even the UPU will be wanting a governor for the Urhobo people.
In Delta State, we have the Urhobos, we have the Aniomas, the Itsekiris, the Ijaws and several others and so whoever aspires to be governor of the state must be governor for all, he must be a friend to all, he must accept people across the various ethnic groups and that is how it should be. We should be looking to a state where we stay united, where there is equity, there is fairness in distribution of positions, there is fairness in the distribution of infrastructure and where we are able to sit down on the table to talk on a lot of issues without really limiting ourselves to taking ethnic positions, believing that the government is for a particular ethnic group.
I don’t want to be governor of the Anioma people; I want to be governor of Delta State. And I think that whoever is aspiring cannot aspire to be governor of the Isoko people alone or governor of the Urhobo people alone.
I got votes from the Aniomas, I got a lot of votes from the Urhobos, I got votes from the Itsekiris, the Ijaws and the rest. In going forward, I want to stay with that belief that I seek to govern Delta State and not a particular ethnic group. I have my respect for all ethnic groups including the Urhobos and I will try to do my best when elected into office.
That led me to appeal and caution that we need to be careful the kind of words that we use so that we don’t begin to create very sensitive divides among ourselves because the state can only truly grow and grow properly when we see ourselves as one. A divided state obviously has limitation in its progress.
What has been your relationship with the aspirants that lost out?
Oh, very wonderful. They have been very wonderful, all of them have called in to congratulate me and we held meetings twice in Abuja here, one at the instance of the governor and about 14 of them were present at that meeting and thereafter, that same evening, I met with them privately too, in a meeting at Transcorp and they were all in attendance.
So the relationship has been very wonderful. They have actually been very wonderful. We just inaugurated our campaign council in Asaba and they are members of the campaign council, all of them that were there in the contest.
So they have been truly wonderful and cooperative and I must appreciate their acceptance of the result. Whenever you have a free and fair process, that is the likely result but I must say that I appreciate them individually and collectively for the support that they have given to me since after the election.