…Our area of biggest impact is in the riverine
…Our plans for Asaba, Warri , other parts of Delta
…Herdsmen turning more dangerous, FG should initiate strategy to stop menace
…Henceforth, no approval for new school without sports facility
By Emma Amaize, South-South Editor and Festus Ahon
Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, whose administration eminent personalities, within and outside the state, have given a pass mark, especially for his road construction efforts and creation of jobs for youths, has opened up on the secrets of his success.
The Governor, who spoke exclusively to Vanguard Editors at the Government House, Asaba, at the presentation of a letter conveying his award as Governor of the Year, also said that his biggest impact was taking development to the riverine areas of the state, saying that meeting the yearnings of the people gives him immeasurable joy.
OKOWA, popularly known as “Road Master” attributed the exultant story of his government to a well-articulated policy encapsulated in his admired SMART programme with a high-quality team engineering the course of action and his Town Hall meetings with the people, which has opened his eyes to what the people truly want, not what government wants to do for them.
Smart stands for Strategic wealth creation project and provision of jobs for all Deltans; Meaningful peace building platform aimed at political/social stability; Agricultural reform and accelerated industrialization; Relevant health and education policies; and Transformed environment though urban renewal.
What propels my SMART programme
As you would expect, he was at home when one of the editors started with what drives his SMART agenda. He replied, “Actually, the first thing is that I have been lucky having been there from the time I was local government council chairman to Secretary to State Government, SSG. There are lots of policies and there are weaknesses and there are strengths and somebody has to understand this.
“Mine has been to study the various policies and finding out how to make things better, what actually the initial intention was because if the intention was right and we continued to end up in a wrong way, then determining what actually happened, is the main driver of my SMART programme.
“Yes, we know that we have to take the youths off the streets and that has to be done gradually. But in taking them off the streets, how are we going to proceed to do it, is just throwing out starter packs to them; they will just walk across the road and sell it, we now realized that it was not the right way to go. So the first thing that we needed to do having realized that job creation was important, was to set up a team several months well before the elections.
“We had a team working and after the primaries, we kicked off the team with a lot of people and we decided that these were the things to do to get things right. We decided that we are going to have a chief job creation officer and we went out to bring a professor from University of Nigeria, Nsukka to run the programme. And when we started, we needed even if it is a short programme on mindset change, preparing their minds on the need to depart from the past. Then thereafter, you go to the theoretical training, which takes you into your training in entrepreneurial skills, after which we return you back to Songhai Delta. It is an exclusive centre where we look at your experiences and other things, thereafter; you get your starter packs.”
He noted, “At this stage, the work of the chief job creation officer and his team is not done, but we now follow up with the Directorate of Monitoring and Mentoring team. These are the ones that interface with them, they begin to find out what your problems are and how do we find the solutions.
They also do a critique of the processes followed at the time of training these people, so apart from attending to the people themselves, you find out that the team goes round visiting the various centres where these people are trained to discuss, asking questions to be sure that everyone that passes through the programme actually has a plan.
“So, the programme is well structured and monitored. Everybody checks each other and we found that it was succeeding for us. We thank God for that and that is just an aspect of it. The other aspect is vocational training. We have revamped about eight vocational centres, moving to about 12 and we created a board for it, the Board for Technical and Vocational Education run fully on its own. That board runs all the vocational centres along with the Technical Colleges.
Turned around six technical colleges
“In Nigeria, unfortunately, we thought it was no longer necessary and then everybody forgot about it, but here in Delta we know it is necessary. By the time I came in, the six technical colleges in the state were in a very sorry state with low student population. We went into those schools and turned them around, the six of them at Agbor, Sapele, Utagba Ogbe, Ogor, Ofagbe and Issele-Uku.
“Having turned it around, providing new equipment, we refurbished those that are still usable. We are beginning to retrain the teachers and realized that to keep the students, we have to run effective, focused entrepreneurial programmes and the technical programmes become an addition. We have been able to marry some of these things and they are doing very well now. I give you an example, the Sapele Technical College, quoted formally for construction of school benches and their jobs are better than most of these companies. The building department of Ofagbe Technical College did bid for building of houses and had constructed houses on their own.
“We are also making our technical colleges and polytechnics drive along entrepreneurial skills. If you go to Ozoro Polytechnic, they built a beautiful 14,000-seater stadium solely by direct labour, it is one of the best medium-size stadiums that we have in this country. They built it by themselves at low cost; it cost them about N790 million. If that thing was done by contract, it will not be less than N3 billion or over N3 billion. Even the Delta State University, Abraka has taken its entrepreneurial skills a notch higher.”
Why we’re retraining teachers
Governor Okowa added, “The other thing that actually attracts us a lot is the gap we have to fill in the education sector. Our teachers are not trained, we have also asked questions, we had an Education Summit, very knowledgeable people coming to talk to us and we decided to have a Teachers Development Professional Centre. We hope that in another six months, we should be ready with that, but before that we were able to start a retraining programme, the first set of teachers, about 1,400 I am told are being trained for a period of two weeks.
“Why we want to have a fully established centre for that is that we want a situation where we will be able to roll our teachers for training, and after about six months, we return the first set back for another set to go and with time, we will start seeing the positive change in the education sector. We are doing this because we are getting worried about the quality of education. I think Kaduna State is also thinking in that direction. For us, we think that it is very important because once the teacher gets its wrong, we would have got the whole human beings and the direction totally wrong.”
Managing the diversity in Delta
He agrees that managing Delta State is not a tea party because of its diversity. His views, “In the first instance, the nature of the state is that we actually know that Delta State is a mini-Nigeria and rather than tearing ourselves apart, the real thing is that the people must trust themselves. Once they do not trust themselves, they cannot come together. But somehow, a lot of factors have played in that have tended to bring the people together.
“In the political aspect, the trust was not there, but somehow, the governorship moved from Delta Central to Delta South and it came to Delta North, it was not easy, but the hand of God made it happen, so in that case, you now find that we are becoming equitable, we are beginning to respect each other.
“But I also came in at a point in time where I did realize that the people across the three senatorial districts with the different ethnic groups actually trusted you and voted for you. That in itself is respect from the people and I knew that I need to work with all being very truthful.
“So from the time we started, I knew that the people were watching even from the first appointments we made to know whether we are inclusive. That was important to us, the other thing is that they were also watching to see what happens when the projects come and we know we have to reach out to everybody.
“You see, we tried to reach out to everybody, but I try to let them also understand that there are certain places like Asaba, the capital for instance that has to have an edge. Besides what we are trying to do, you must be open to the people. We had to create a law for establishing the Delta State Capital Development Agency and by creating a law, we are not hiding anything, it was open for debate on the reasons why we had to do it and find money to do it.
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“People actually were being reached with our empowerment programmes and others, we also had to engage the traditional rulers, get everybody united and they are fully on board. We also have an advisory body, we created an advisory team made up of very eminent Deltans, who not just offer advice and when the need arises, you send them to critical places. With all these happening with time, people began to realize that we are building a state that is one.
People’s confidence steadily returning
“The language of ethnicity and diversity was no longer there, so everybody was beginning to think alright and think alike and together and I think that that confidence just gradually grows, but whatever you do as a human being, God helps you. And God has been very helpful to us. Yes, politics will still come, but essentially, we have the confidence of a lot of people that we mean well. But very important, we have got to a stage where we found that we have to go beyond us and government because the House of Assembly has the opportunity of looking at the budget, but we realized that just those in the Executive and House of Assembly were not just enough though they represent their people.
Valuable lessons from Town Hall meetings
“We thought it was necessary to go on a Town Hall meeting across the state and when we visit a local government, all manner of opinions you bring them in, the labour leaders, market women, mechanic, traditional rulers, just all shades of opinion in the local government, we bring them up into the town hall and we spend the whole day talking what they feel, what they need vis a vis what we are doing and what could be done better.
“In some places, they actually offered us advice on what they feel we needed to do and where they thought we are doing enough, they told us. People took time to come and express themselves and what they want, even in the difficult times when local government workers were being owned salaries, they spoke their minds. But it is the local governments that actually owed their workers and teachers, but everything came on the state. That gave us the opportunity to explain to them the state does not pay salaries for local government councils, but when funds come, we were going to assist and that tended to assure them.
“When we were going out then, I was already telling my people that we were doing a lot on road construction, but we found out the demand for road construction was actually even more. And the people were able to tell us the critical roads we need to do. Some made us to understand that though the House of Assembly member for his constituency represents the people, he is subjective, that gave us a lot of ideas about how to actually take charge of next set of budgets and it impacted strongly on part of our budgeting in 2017.
“The advice that we got from the town hall meeting actually determined what we did in 2018 budget and a major part of the 2019 budget, which was recently passed. Most of what is in our 2019 budget actually came from the requests of the people. Some persons would say this is what we want, other persons would say this would be better and all that. So, it was good thing.
Getting budgets quickly passed
“But how we are able to manage our funds in such circumstances, I tell people it is because we have a good team and one sits down and listen to them properly. In the State Executive Council, we discuss as colleagues, there is no question of a master-servant relationship. But what we found out is that in superior planning, you need to find out the time of the year you need to get a budget passed, the time of the year you need to start work because that is where we have had challenges generally. I do not want to criticize what the Federal Government is doing, but here in Delta, we try to get our budget passed latest December.
“In fact, it was only our first year, the 2016 budget that was passed in January, 2017, the House of Assembly passed others latest December preceding the new budget year and like I said, we were able to do this because we started early. If you start the budgetary process early enough from August, you will be able to get to the House of Assembly by the end of October, but most times we get to the House by middle of October and during the time we are doing our preparations for the budget, the various House Committees are brought in, so the Commissioners liaise with the House Committees so that by the time the budget is actually laid, there has been an interaction over time.
“And then, it quickens the process of defence, that defence is something that has actually started earlier. Secondly, all the House members were with us through the process of the town hall meetings that we did, so they also understand that their people have made specific requests. It is not a question of what I need; it is a question of what the people of the local government have decided.”
Reason we’re doing well in road construction
“Having found out what the people wanted, we are able to start construction projects, be it roads or buildings in the dry season early enough and get some milestone. Then we have also identified some big contractors, who are able to work on major roads and they know that they are not going to get their payments at once, but we will pay them and the confidence level is there. Some people know that if we say we are going to pay them in February, we will pay them, but you will not get the bulk at once.
“We have built that confidence and they know we will pay as at when we say we will pay. So, you find that as they begin to work, we go into the rainy season when they are not doing much work, we pay the backlog of what is left during the dry season, and by time you are getting to November, you prepare their mind to work because they now have sufficient fund to work and that is why we have done pretty very well in road construction and even the secretariat we are building in the state.
New secretariat to accommodate 28 ministries, departments
“Yes, I think that is one key project that we needed because we have our ministries and agencies in over 100 different homes. I called them homes because they were not built like offices and we believe that we need that secretariat and it is sitting on about 50,000 square metres, it is actually going to accommodate about 28 ministries and departments. It is expected to accommodate all the ministries and departments and what will help us to coordinate governance seamlessly, so that planning has helped us and we have also monitored our projects and ensured that we have value for money.
“Contractors also are doing well because you can do your planning, if the contractors are not doing well, they mess up your planning. The Commissioner for Finance has also done so well because of the progress we have been able to make. The contractors have such confidence that they can do a job up to 40 per cent on their own knowing that we will pay, that is good arrangement and good over watch,” he said.
Let Nigerians decide
Governor Okowa is cocksure that his party has reformed well enough for Nigerians to trust it, saying, “In the first instance, I believe that where we are today, the Peoples Democratic Party can be trusted because there have been a lot of reforms in the party. I also do know that when you are going through a journey and you get truncated, you begin to have a rethink on what to do and with the activities up to when we brought in the national executive of our party at the convention; I believe Nigerians would have seen that there is a turnaround. “
So much to be done in Asaba
Speaking on the current development in Asaba, the state capital, he said, “The truth is that there is a lot to be done in Asaba, but I believe that we have started. Asaba is growing a lot, no doubt about it and the first thing we did was to direct the Asaba Capital Development Agency to provide road infrastructure, yes, some structures have been put in place, especially in the Government Reservation Area, GRA part of Asaba. There was a lot of neglect of the actual town and when I came in, we concentrated efforts in that area to feel the effect of a state capital.
“Most of the roads we constructed actually are in the traditional part of Asaba, I remembered that the first road that we actually got to do was the Cable Point Road, that was actually where they felt that oh, the road is for the poor people, some people actually asked me, why Cable Point, were you born there? But I think that the narrative has changed, the Cable Point area is now a completely changed and we have done a lot of road in core area of Asaba. We cannot really cover everywhere because we have to work within the limit of our resources.
Our plan for Asaba Airport
“We had to re-award the contract for certain areas of the Asaba Airport and we have already started the process of commercializing it. We have a big runway now, the airport is put into shape, the airfield lighting system is being done, and there are still a lot of plans for development. So our intention is to get it as standard as it ought to be,” he asserted.
What we’re doing to tame Asaba flood
Regarding the flooding of capital city, he stated, “From day one, however, we realized that Asaba was usually heavily flooded during the rains; I had never really observed that until I witnessed it the first year and by the second year, 2016, we started conducting test, we just did not want to start building small gutters here and there. It took nine months to do that survey and we threw it up before the Nigeria Society of Engineers and they came up with a project that can actually do water draining out of the entire town.”
“The water flows in from Okpanam, you just do not know, but Okpanam is more that a 100 metres higher than Asaba, but because you are going on a gradual plain, you do not know. And when the water comes, in fact, in 2016, the fence of Government House was brought down twice, it was then I began to know how serious it is.”
We can’t close the eyes to Warri
Okowa knew we would ask him questions about the oil city of Warri and was prepared. His words, “There are still a lot of things to be done and we will continue to do the best that we can, but the issue of Warri, we are not going to ignore Warri at all. In the town hall meeting, I had the opportunity to re-assure them that we need to start things gradually, Warri is an economic nerve centre and we cannot wish any of the two away.
“So what we are doing in Warri now, in this dry season, between now and April, a lot is going to be done on the Warri – Sapele Road. Not only that, we are already working on Ubeji Road, they are doing very well on it. The one that impacts on Itsekiri people, that is the trans-Warri road leading to Ode-Itsekiri, we met a huge debt profile on it, but this year, we have been able to find N3.5 billion and Setraco is moving back to site and we have to pay them gradually.
Tackling Warri flood
“We also made a promise to them in the town hall meeting that we are going to deal with the issue of flooding that you also have in Asaba because there is a lot of flood in Warri. But first, we needed to undertake a study, not like things were done in the past, just doing things anyhow. That study is being done at the moment, we appointed a consultant, Itsekiri and Urhobo gave us their own nominees because these people, who are elderly have knowledge of the natural water channel and we brought them in.
Approval and award of contracts
“Otherwise, without their help, it may take the consultant about two to three years to do a study because he would have to watch each rainy season to know the channel. But with what we have done now, we just need one reason to determine the course of water flow. The preliminary report is going to be submitted to me next week (second week of December). I have already been told by the consultant that we are going to have about eight different projects that will drain the whole of Warri, but there are two major ones that we must undertake first.
“That was actually the same thing in Asaba here, it was eight really, but he told us that three critical ones must be taken first. So, we will quickly get the first two storm projects in Warri as we get the report, which we have already set aside N3 billion in the 2019 budget. So, we are planning for Warri just as we plan for Asaba and the rest part of the state. I am hoping that if the report actually comes in as planned, by January, we should be able to have the approval and contracts will be awarded so that they will have from end of January to May to work because after May, you will not be able to work. These are projects that will span about two years for us to complete.”
FG should strategically handle herdsmen menace
Concerning rampaging herdsmen in the state, the governor disclosed, “We have been trying to manage the herdsmen challenge in Delta, but it is still there. However, you do not have them as we you have in Benue state and other places because of the way we have tended to manage it working with the police. We also have two special assistants that have helped, one of them is a northerner, and one is Delta North though from Asaba here, but brought up in the north and speaks Hausa very well. What we have tried to do is to engage these people wherever they are because the law of the land does not allow you to go into the bush and ask people to go.
“Unfortunately also, they just move into people’s farm, sometimes they engage the locals and they allow them come in, some other times, they just come in, destroy their farms and it appears to us that it is deliberate. What we intend to do is engage the leadership of Hausa community here in Delta; they are in different places and see how we can communicate because many of them stay in the bush, but they have contact with their kinsmen, who are in urban areas.
“That kind of engagement has kept us and actually one of the special assistants moved in through the engagements he had with the Hausa community here, so he relates with them to be able to relate the level of clash that we have. I just pray and hope that we are able to approach the matter from the national level, do we need to continue to allow them to roam around the way they are doing now, is that the right thing to do, many countries have built reserves for them.
“The Minister of Agriculture has constantly said that there are ways and means these things can be done. We have a fast growing grass that can be used, so why is it not possible that we are able to provide funding for that purpose as the Minister has requested. These are grasses that will regenerate themselves in a space of just 10 days and if we have such and we have water pond, they must not roam around and it is better for us. I think that we have to have a deliberate policy in that direction, we have to listen to the advice of the Minister of Agriculture and I think he means well, we can actually get something out of what he is saying.”
Road to becoming governor
Governor Okowa sighed when he was asked to shed light on the travails he passed before his emergence, saying, “Actually, there is no doubt that I went through a very difficult election, but it is all politics. In 2015, a lot of us were in the race and it was at a time that we felt generally that to God’s glory, Delta Central has produced governor, Delta South has also produced and it should go to Delta North, but in Delta North, we were about 15 in the race in PDP. We went out there campaigning, a very tough and difficult election and God made it and I won the primaries.
“Having won the primaries, I did not think it was going to be a difficult election because the primaries were actually free and fair. When I came into government, I felt the best thing to do was to as much as possible bring all or nearly all who were involved in that primaries into government for everybody to contribute his quota and that we did very effectively. It has helped to build peace and re-assurance among everybody. Initially, people came in with the question of can we trust each other but after three, six months, we saw it worked.”
No sports facility, no approval for new school
On sports, he said, “Sports is very important in the development of our society, it brings peace, yes, there is entertainment, but more importantly health need, it helps the people to exercise their energy in the right direction.
Also, we are able to find talents and develop them. As for stadium, apart from Asaba, we have not done in any other one. Ours is to find a way to put into use what is on ground. As at today, we have a lot of sporting activities taking place beyond participating in various games. “
“We have started what we call intra-school sports because we believe in catching them young, the Principal Cup is actually a football competition among secondary schools and we have 465 secondary schools in the state. We have done the first and second edition, the third edition has started and after the first edition, we now started the Headmaster Cup involving all primary schools, both public and private.
The first edition we had, over 600 primary schools participated and we hope that this time, it will cross the 1,000 mark. These are activities that we hope we grow the young ones. At times, it is from the primary schools that we identify the talents that we have, we have participated in several competitions, you are aware that the National Youths Sports Festival, we wont.”
Vanguard is a paper loved in Delta state
He spoke on his nomination as Governor of the Year by Vanguard. His words, “Vanguard is a paper that is loved in Delta State, it has a lot of readership and actually we are happy with the quality of the news and information it carries. There is no doubt that a lot of people want to read your newspaper because of its quality. We are proud that you people are doing well.
“I want to appreciate Board of Editors for finding me worthy to be awarded such an honour as Governor of the Year. Yes, we set out to do what we were voted to do; obviously we had huge challenges at the beginning. I am one person that runs government in partnership with the people and the first two years was very tough, we made it known to the public and thereafter when things started improving, we also brought it to the attention of the people.
‘We did not just fold our hands, we had to go into serious planning and thank God, with the good team we have, we were still able to get things done even those a different mindset about us, I think by the third year, they realized that we have a focus and we thank God for the vision that we have. Actually, the amount of work we have done in the state is not just what one can come and factor in everything because Delta State is diverse in nature.
Our greatest impact is in the riverine
“We have been able to bring about changes here in Asaba, but for me, the greatest impact in what we are doing is the fact that we are able to take development to the riverine areas, which was something that most people did not think that we needed to do because of the difficult terrain and high cost. And we thank God for that too, because we can sit down now and boast that we have been able to construct, or reconstruct fully a 19.7 kilometre road in the riverine areas. It actually cuts across five villages from Obotobo 1, Obotobo II, Sekebolor to Yokri.
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When they first told me about it, I never agreed that there was a road network in the riverine that could go 19.7 kilometers until I sent my people. In fact they told me about 15 kilometers, but when I sent my people, they actually measured it and it was 19.7 kilometers.
“The contractor has just finished the project and is waiting for commissioning. That is just one of the things we have done. You go to Burutu town in Burutu local government area, which I visited myself and I saw the excitement in the people. It may not have cost us so much, but every single road in Burutu we had to actually pave using concrete.
So when you go Burutu now, it is a place totally changed and the people are excited. We have that across in many places, Okerenkoko and Oporoza, we are doing the Ogidigben township roads and people are actually excited.”