By Patrick Okedinachi Utomi
There is a time to strive to be somebody and a time to enjoy life, reflecting on the meaning of life. All these in the seasons of a life that is short. Then there is a time of judgment and all will be judged surely. We will be judged by our children. We will be judged by history. And we will be judged by God.
Anybody who remembers judgment and is not moved to do something positive about our situation in Delta State should probably never have been born. As I am thankful for the gift of life, I have been reflecting and doing so on the challenge of now. The challenge is the lost dignity of our people: Mostly jobless and removed from the ability to find fulfillment in the opportunities made abundant in Delta State by the creator, they have become beggarly. Some have even fallen into despair. Businesses continue to exit Delta. Whether it be Shell or Pan Ocean, or traditional manufacturing in Asaba or Agbarha-Otor or Warri. Our cities are dirty and unplanned, and darkness reigns at night. That crime is big should therefore be no surprise. Yet the means to salvage things, turn things around and transform our “big heart” into a prideful place of excellence is within our reach.
A full employment economy is within our reach; but bad politics has made our state a common joke. Our two neighbors, Edo and Anambra who are far less resourced, have a citizen’s quality of life that is far higher and better than Delta State. Yet, many times, Delta receives up to seven times the allocation of these states from the FAAC account and has endowments that can attract more private investments. Those investments will create more jobs, access to more internally generated revenue (IGR) and an enhanced quality of life.
But we need to know our troubles are about to go up exponentially when, as the world beholds the fourth industrial revolution, people on the streets of Delta, instead of thinking a developmental state, are still engaged in excessive but petty partisan bickering and jockeying about who will position best to get the crumbs from the small pie on a table dominated by a few desperados. What they forget is that a little imagination, integrity which gives confidence to partners and a passionate commitment to the Common Good, can result in a pie so big, and a table so wide, that all can eat to their fill on the table, and what is left over may be a good resemblance to that after-dinner experience when Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes.
Still, the politics of Delta State continues to seek to be same as was before, ignoring Albert Einstein’s kind and wise warning that to continue to try the same intervention and expect a different outcome, is a definition of insanity. We must collectively reject the view of Delta as an asylum, worse still, an asylum where the inmates have taken charge and have the psychiatrists in chains.
We are being given a new opportunity by our democratic process to have a new management that can transform Delta and bring happy days back to all; rich and poor, male and female, urban and rural; young and old. To achieve this transformation into rapid and balanced economic growth, supported by peace and harmony and powered by education and health care for all. How fast can this happen to create a “development miracle” that can make Dubai and Singapore pay tribute?
The key has to be planning, mind-set change, civil service retooling; a passion for doing things well, ownership of the dream by ordinary Deltans and sacrificial commitment of politicians, beyond self, to the Common Good.
It is clear that the capacity to pull all of these together do not exist like the widespread African Continental Bank (ACB) branches of old: “for dis corner e dey there”. We are privileged that God’s grace, an interesting career in which we set forth at dawn, to borrow from Professor Wole Soyinka, have helped sharpen the vision. Starting early in life, attracting national attention at 19 and being named, at 22, to edit the country’s leading news magazine with people who graduated before I was born reporting to me, and later getting global exposure in Development Economics after two master degrees and a PhD by age of 26; having managed multinational ventures with up to 3,600 staff, entrepreneurial ventures that I founded and have had to lose sleep to ensure a monthly wage bill was paid; I am convinced that I have experience enough to deal with such a humongous challenge of rescuing Delta. And I am fortunate to be able to add to this experience and exposure in the private sector, founding and sustaining such social enterprises as the Centre for Values in Leadership, which, among its many interventions in leadership development, has pooled more than N600 million Naira worth of Youth development and Entrepreneurship training free of charge, to more than 400 young men and women in Delta State. This programme of teaching men to fish instead of giving them small pieces of fish has been one of the more edifying of my many missions.
With appointment to a Presidential Advisory position in 1983, at the age of 27 and private-citizen Advisory roles to Governors in Lagos, Edo and Anambra States, I have had the good fortune of being among the few who have had top flight play in Government, Social Enterprise, Business Enterprise, and Academia. This is what we hope can guide us to re-invent the Delta State Civil Service into an entrepreneurial service, guiding a peoples’ capitalism that can turn loose an army of entrepreneurs that can help create more jobs, more wealth and less tension in our state.
The dial tone in Delta today is “there is no money”. So how can you achieve such large-scale transformation? This is where the point that changed China’s course comes in.
China was a hopelessly backward economy in the 1960s. Then a new leader Deng Tsao Ping came along after the many years of Mao Tse Tung.
In a speech on May 24, 1977 Deng said, ‘’we must create within the party an atmosphere of respect for knowledge and respect for trained personnel; the erroneous attitude of not respecting intellectuals must be opposed.” China, following this path, turned things around and we know where they are today.
Delta can turn things around by turning to its people of knowledge to show the way. We plan to draw the smartest Deltans from around the world down to show the light. One thing the team will show is that it is not about money in the budget, but imagination that brings the capital for developing infrastructure, support industrial policy to uphold competitiveness of value chains on the endowments of our state.
It must begin with the goal of a full employment economy in which people are immediately employed; cleaning up, lighting up and beautifying the state while spending part of their day to be trained to skill up and to be absorbed into Industrial Parks and Financial districts that will be linked by rail and multi-lane highways. On the corridors of these Transport Turnpikes will be located new cities growing organically around our endowments.
Before I close, let me make a confession. A little over a year ago, I figured I had done my bit in the political space after decades of activism and a decision to be active in the political party arena, and lest I not be able to justify in conscience, why those whose values and perspectives I do not share make decisions that constitute the authoritative allocation of values in our society. Then a group of old boys of Government College, Ughelli sought to see me. They made a passionate case for why someone with my antecedents, capacity and level of integrity is desperately needed to help rescue a Delta they were convinced had become an embarrassment.
I shamelessly admit to you that my question to God after they left was, why me?. You know I had come to a conclusion that Nigerian politics seems to abhor the focus of a developmental state, and that I have chosen at this stage to seek legacy and ‘immortally’ via a different way from the Lee Kuan Yew’s and Mahathir Mohamad model. I have been labouring on a number of business enterprise and social enterprise initiatives, all driven by the motive of social impact. Surely Lord, I would have served your people well through these. So why are these people trying to drag me into this arena from which I have been plotting a quiet exit.
In my struggles of contemplation on the matter, what consistently come back to me was: never underestimate the power of example. Three years of doing it right could alter the course of the history of your race. I was not so sure what to make of it, so I named consideration of this idea, “The Gideon Project”. It was up to God to prove himself. I am doing my duty of making myself available. I hope He will show what He wants. I am certain I want nothing in particular, just to be obedient to do His will.
My leaders, friends and compatriots, I have no doubt in my mind that we can accomplish this dream in a record time so that some of us who must move on to other callings, if God gives life and health, can do our bit and move on.
I come to say to you that I value the effort you have made to help build this party. I am here to say, if you ask I will go to set our people free. Amazingly it is the time of Lent. A time to set our people free. And I say to you, here I am. Send me.