Says she’s not bothered men and women are always around her husband
Dame Edith Okowa is the wife of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State. Simple, unassuming and caring, she readily confesses to having a passion for the less privileged, which explains why she has been into charity works for decades.
In this chat with newsmen in her office, she spoke on her O5 Initiative which first anniversary is today June 1, how she copes with the challenges of being a Governor’s wife and other issues. Excerpts:
By Festus Ahon
HOW did 05 Initiative come about?
You asked me how O5 came about and you will also wonder what the five is and what the O stands for. A man was elected and sworn in as Governor of Delta State on May 29, 2015 and that man has a wife and she is Edith Okowa. This same man has responsibilities of which the Lord chose him to do and being the wife, I want to believe that no woman will just sit at home and be very happy just to be called First Lady.
So I sat down and called on God and asked Him: what will you have me do as the wife of the Governor? And the Lord led me to the Gospel of Matthew 25:35-36; and in that scripture, we discovered that we have six commands by the Lord: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, give hope to the hopeless.
Product of grace
Six in all, and with my knowledge of the arithmetic of Jesus I know that the number six is the number of sin and I know that there is something attached to the number, five. I felt that water and food should go together which brings the figure to about five. That is: clothe the naked, visit the sick, feed the hungry, house the homeless and visit the prisoners. That is how we came about O5 Initiative.
I have told you I’m a product of grace, starting from when I was born. We were so many in my family but God kept me alive. So we chose this number of grace because grace has propelled us thus far. That is how O5 began and so far the Lord has helped us because His Grace is sufficient for us. You will wonder how. This office is not gazetted, we do not have any budget, and how are we going about doing all these? It is the grace of God. There is no person I have visited to talk about this project that sent me away, they gave me something. Even those that did not have money to give, gave me a smile. Some advised me, some encouraged me and we have been going about doing this. We started with an orphanage that is called the City of David.
During our campaign, as we traversed the whole of Delta State, we had the opportunity to visit an orphanage and when we got there, everyone of us that went there wept because of the number of children that were sharing a sitting room and a bedroom. And I told God, take me to a place where I will be of help. The first thing I did when I came on board was to relocate these children. Right now they have a place that is befitting for my own children because I call them my children.
Then we began on June 1, 2015 by going to the prison in Ogwashi-Uku. Fortunately, that was my birthday and to God be the glory, on that same June 1, 2016 which is on a Wednesday(today), I will be numbered double five: that is 55 years. Right there, all the women that went with me made their contributions: they gave their donations and that is how we were able to sink the first borehole in Ogwashi-Uku prison.
How long have you been involved in charity work?
In the last administration I was Director General to my friend and sister, Mrs. Roli Uduaghan. Since I became an adult, my second name has been charity. I have been visiting the prisons even when my husband was just a medical doctor in Agbor. I have been reaching out; it is my ministry.
What plans do you have in place to sustain this project beyond you as First Lady of the State?
The project is not all about Edith Okowa. Every clinic we have established is sited in the premises of a hospital and the moment we complete it, we hand it over to the hospital management. I have not come here to make a name; God has given me a name. He is the only one who announces you; my report card is with Him and He is the one ticking good or ticking bad. So even our destination is not the minor clinics we are opening in various hospitals.
We are building a very massive Sickle Cell Centre in the Central Hospital in Asaba. God willing, that is what we are bringing into Asaba Central Hospital. God has given us a wing via the Delta State Government to be able to establish a sickle cell centre that will endure.
So much has been said about what you have achieved through the 05 Initiative. Can you actually place a figure on how much has been spent so far and what to expect in the years to come?
The Bible says it is not of he that willeth nor of him that runneth but it is the Lord that showeth mercy. It is the mercies of God that has led us to this place. As long as we are still within the covenant of the Lord, the sky is our starting point.
Homes to orphanages
Concerning the number, we have five clinics now: the Agbor Clinic, the Ughelli Clinic, the Oleh Clinic and Sapele Clinic. Then we have also sank boreholes in Sapele prisons and in Ogwashi-Uku prisons. We have given home to orphanages, the City of David. I cannot enumerate how many children we have been clothing and we also have some children that we have adopted as our own.
Five of them, the Agboje family: these children are orphans, no father and mother. We have taken them as our own; we pay their fees, feed them and house them. We rented an apartment for them. Then there is a little child that I took, Abraham, in Mother of Divine Mercy Orphanage Home. I just liked him after he danced so much at our Christmas party, so he is my son. I take care of him financially even if he is still in the orphanage.
Then again we were able to give food during the Christmas season to at least 60 women per local government. We reached out to 60 women in the 25 local governments with food, giving them rice, groundnut oil, money and other items. I can’t enumerate them, God knows them.
As we visit the prisons, we also pay fines for those of them that had the option of fine. Can you imagine somebody was behind bars for two years because he was unable to pay N15,000? We have such cases.
So what we do, like Wednesday June 1, which is the day of freedom, any person that has a fine of N100,000 and below, we will pay them all and set them free; we go round the prisons in Delta. Not just setting them free because I understand that some of them may not have a place to go to. So I have begged the government led by Dr Ifeanyi Okowa to give me some slots during the next empowerment programme for these our brothers that are going to be released. Let them learn a trade so that they can be useful to themselves.
Pressing on to the mark
There was also one little child that was born with a bulging eye. God used us and Mrs. Kachikwu; we sent this little child to the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital and to God be the Glory, ‘it is once I was blind, now I can see’.
How has it been like working with Delta women?
I am a woman and so we have partnered very well; we have not had any issue. I am a very open person, I don’t give in to gossip; so if you don’t want the second person to hear what you want to tell me, don’t even come because before you go I will call the other person.
The only thing that could cause stress in a relationship is hearsay and I don’t give in to it. I started by telling them that I am not perfect, anywhere you see I err, tell me. I have a teachable character. Saint Paul says, I press on towards the mark, I am not there yet; we are in a process of pressing on to the mark. So in this press, I am ready to accept corrections and that is why we have been working together, we have not had any issue; I wouldn’t even know because whatever you say at my back does not concern me, it is what you say before me that counts.
How do you presently cope with your husband now he is Governor of Delta State? Do you miss him sometimes?
You see, one thing that makes a marriage is facing reality. Don’t live in a fool’s paradise. When I got married to my husband he was a young medical doctor. I have said this before, any time I had the opportunity to go to the clinic where he was working, any person I saw there was a patient.