By Emma Amaize, South-South Editor and Festus Ahon
SMARTING from his endorsement for re-election by royal fathers and youths of Delta Central, the Urhobo kinsmen of his main challenger in the forthcoming governorship election, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State has asked the All Progressives Congress, APC, candidate, Chief Great Ogboru, to tarry till 2023 when it will be the turn of his district, once again, to return to power.
Okowa spoke exclusively to Sunday Vanguard. He was responding to a cheeky question on why he should not be benevolent enough to allow Ogboru, who had contested five times and lost, to win on his sixth attempt, whereas he (Okowa) contested just once in 2015 and triumphed.
He laughed and said, “He (Ogboru) is from Delta Central, which has taken its two tenures through former governor, Chief James Ibori, while ex-governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, served two tenures for Delta South. So why would he (Ogboru) want to truncate a process that gives room for peace, fairness and equity in the state?
“He does not have to be a serial contestant; all I thought is that Ogboru should have waited till 2023 to try his luck once again and, for the peace and equity in this state, I sincerely think that he would not have needed to be on the ballot paper this time.”
Lessons from campaign
Speaking on his campaign so far, he said, “First, the campaign has given us insight into the partnership which we have established with the people because you recall that even before the campaign, I have gone round the local governments holding town hall meetings with stakeholders.
“The campaigns have been very peaceful and people turned out in huge numbers and there was obvious excitement on the faces of the people. The way they welcomed us showed that there is working partnership between Deltans and my government for which we are very grateful to God and we thank Deltans for their support and satisfaction with what we are doing in government.
“I want to quickly point out that whatever we have achieved was because Deltans gave us the room for peace and it is because of the peaceful environment that we have been able to do the lot that we have been able to do”.
The question and answer session went on:
On what is left to be done
Going forward, there is still a lot to be done, we have built roads. We are going to consolidate on infrastructure. The more we connect the people with the rest of the communities, the better for us because it opens up commerce, it creates an environment for growth and we have continued to promise that we were definitely going to upscale the entrepreneurship programme and ensure that our youths are gainfully employed.
We started a programme for women but we also need to upscale this. We have realized that the more we empower women, the more we are actually able to put food on the table of the family and, therefore, they are a very critical segment. We have been doing a lot of programmes for them, so we are looking forward for a lot of great things to be done in the course of time.
The key message I have passed to Deltans during my campaign was, first, for them to understand what we have gone through, where we are at the moment and for them to realize that even within the very difficult situation that we find ourselves, we have been able to deliver dividends of democracy for which we created several thousands of jobs through our entrepreneurship programme, farmers’ empowerment programme, women empowerment programme among others.
And they already know that we have done a lot of roads even in the riverine areas,
I am looking forward to going to commission a 19.7 kilometre road in the riverine area along with other areas. If you go to Burutu town, the place has been turned around. If you go to Okerenkoko, all their roads are paved. These are things that we needed to let them know because some people, when they are in some local government areas, they do not know what is going on in other areas.
The beautiful thing is that just as we are delivering in the riveine areas, same thing is going on in the upland areas, we also brought to the fore our health insurance policy, which has attracted a lot of awards to the state. Thus far, we have gone close to 500,000 persons registered already within one year plus, the average is higher than the national that started several years ago. We are really moving forward, there are lots of things to be done.
But the important message is that they should trust us to move forward; beyond all these is the issue of what is equitable in a family. We are a family in Delta State and whether it is PDP arrangement or any other arrangement, the truth is that what is right is right. If other senatorial districts have had their two tenures, it is only fair that equity takes its place. That was the secondary message, but the primary message was for the people to rate us on our performance, which they have accepted.
The fact is, as I always tell people, passion to work with the people has always been in me; not just going for governorship but also in every position I have held. The passion to contribute my quota has been my first clarion call. Two, is the driving force to create a Delta in which we all see ourselves as one, a Delta in which there is equity, a Delta in which there is a connect between those in government and those outside government.
I am not saying it was not there before, but you can see that there is a greater connect between the people and us. That drive must be there to succeed, especially in very difficult times and, as we connect with the grassroots, we are connecting with the labour unions, connecting with all segments of the society. It is something that helps to create a family set-up that everybody wants to be on board to create development for the state.
Power of unity
And that kind of movement has the capacity to take Delta to greater heights and even when other states may be in pain, because of our resolve to work together, we can take Delta to a development height, you find that there is a great success that follows that kind of mindset, it is a passion. I know that we cannot achieve this without the help of God and I have constantly made the people to realize that we must trust in our God and look up to Him. A combination of all these is making a lot of change, there is doubt about that. This oneness, equity and oneness to develop our state and realize that we can, as a united people, do something great for ourselves is something that we must recreate among ourselves and a lot of people are buying into it.
On debate with Ogboru
He didn’t call for debate in 2015. If he ever said that, it is a rather an unfortunate situation because there is just no way I will decline a debate because I am passionate about this state and there is no way I would have said no to such an offer. If he said that, then a lie must have been told.
On why they call him ‘Ekwueme’, ‘Roadmaster’
The Ekwueme nickname started when I was a local government chairman after I kept to all the promises I made, so different traditional rulers in three places gave me the title of Ekwueme in different forms. One is Ekwueme at Utegbe-Oje, another one at Mbiri; at Igbodo, they called me Omekeokwu which also means Ekwueme. These are titles that came in and my philosophy has been, make promises that you can keep.
Do not tell the people lies on what you know you cannot do, you must tell them what you know that you can do and I believe that it is good for politics, you should be able to assess the situation and make only promises you know you will be able to keep. Another name they call me is Roadmaster, which came spontaneously when we started commissioning projects in 2016/17 in all the local government areas. A group of youths just came up with that name, shouting ‘Roadmaster, Roadmaster, Roadmaster’ and that is what they call me everywhere now. I think actually we are engaged in doing a lot of roads. In December, we did 357 road projects and we are still counting.
On federal might
We hear them talk about it every day. The issue is using thugs to destroy electoral materials in areas they consider they are extremely very weak, but I do not know the places where they are strong in this state; that is the greatest challenge for them.
Secondly, there is been a lot of boasting that they will come in with federal might, put everybody under pressure and write result, but we are also doing all we can, training our agents properly and asking people to sit down, watch and make sure that every election result is properly delivered the way it ought to be. And I think we are prepared to ensure that we defend our votes, as we call on all our agents to do the needful.
We are not unmindful of the statements they have made in that regard, but we are going to resist it and we know that possibly is the only option they have because, in a fair competition, they are not actually there to compete strongly. We are working very hard to tie the knots and ensure that they are not able to rig as planned.