By Julius Oweh
It is not every day that journalists, members of the fourth estate of the realm are appreciated by the society especially those who hold the reins of governance. To the mighty and powerful, the press is necessary irritant which should be avoided at all cost. But not so in Delta State where the governor enjoys a rosy relationship all stripes of reporters – those from government owned media houses, correspondents of various hues, indigenous and national media correspondents, veterans and executive members of the Delta State council of Nigerian Union of Journalists. They all came from different parts of the state with Warri and Asaba presenting the bulk of them. Therefore it was not surprising that June 6, 2019 was set aside by the government of Delta State to appreciate the efforts of the press in publicizing the activities of the Okowa administration.
As early as 9.30 when this reporter arrived at the Government House, Asaba, the place was brimming with Asaba journalists leading the pack. The venue of the event, Unity Hall, Government House was temporarily locked for the swearing in of Chief Funkekeme Solomon , the senior political adviser to the governor. Yours sincerely had to use the period to exchange pleasantries with colleagues. At about 10.15am, the hall was opened for journalists and the it was filled to the brim. It took the intervention of the MC, a hilarious fellow to remind non-journalists to leave the hall for journalists. He also had words for camera men who will always stand at any event. He reminded the camera men that the event was meant for them and should also sit down. The advice fell on deaf ears.
Before the arrival of the governor, the secretary to the state government, Mr. Chiedu Ebie, the chief of staff, Government House, Olorogun David Edevie, the senior political adviser to the Governor, Chief Funkekeme Solomon and the Head of Service were already seated. At about 11.15 am, the governor arrived and there was the absence of usual long entourage, there were absence of commissioners and special advisers. As usual, the national anthem was rendered and was followed by an opening prayer by Comrade Edward Ogude, a staff of DBS, Asaba and zonal Vice President of NUJ.
The governor‘s humility was brought to the fore. He apologized to the press for coming late, saying that the swearing-in of senior political adviser ate into the time of the governor‘s media appreciation meeting. He explained that for a very long time due to political campaigns and other exigencies of governance, he had not be able to meet with the press promising to make it up in the nearest future. The governor said the meeting was to appreciate the press for the partnership and support given to him in his first term. He especially thanked the reporters for their incisive reports during the campaigns and made it easier for him to sell his message to the electorate. He stated that most journalists in the state voted for him going by INEC official results of 80 per cent of Deltans voting for him. He praised the press for appropriate reporting of events and for accompanying him to all nooks and crannies of the state. He made special reference to his campaign visit to Warri North local government area. According to him, it was his first time of getting to the Benin River. The people of the riverine area, according to the governor, appreciated him very much for in that visit for he included his daughter in the entourage. He spoke of the peculiar challenges of the riverine areas, saying that the visit had opened his eyes to the sufferings of the people, pledging that in the second term, efforts will be devoted towards the development of the riverine area, the major oil bearing communities in the country.
He extended his hand of fellowship to all journalists in the task of developing the state. Okowa argued that he was not against criticism as long as it is constructive and laced with facts and data. He charged journalists to report correctly and should be partners in progress. Though a medical doctor, he touched the nerve of developmental journalism. It is the media theory that journalists as members of the society should help those in government to grow and develop. He promised to be frank and fair to all in the task of governing Delta State. His words: ‘Once the people are resolved, it is possible to make positive change‘.
While appreciating the efforts of the media, he also took the opportunity to roll out some of the government achievements and the shape of things to come. He promised to pay the minimum wage of N30,000 and waiting for the template from the federal government for implementation. He lamented the huge population growth without corresponding economic growth, stressing that the issue should be handled so that the welfare of the citizens can be guaranteed. That the term stronger Delta is a continuation of SMART agenda, explaining that as more people benefit from his programme, a stronger Delta will emerge. The wealth creation efforts of the government will be given more vigour and same with taking care of the widows, the elderly and the youths. He promised to pay more attention to the education of the girl child because of its implication for the development of the nation.
On health care delivery, he promised more attention to primary health care centre and that in the nearest future, all the 271 wards shall have functional primary health care centres. As for technical education, that additional 19 technical colleges shall be built so that every local government area can boast of technical school, the products shall eventually graduate to the polytechnics in the state. That education can truly be functional with the usage of hands and brains, according to Okowa. He however, added that new projects will not be embarked upon until all the on-going projects are completed. He ended by reemphasizing the import of the media briefing was to show appreciation the press and in his words ‘please remember that in partnership, we can make things work for our people‘. At the end of the governor‘s speech, he received thunderous applause from all journalists.
In brief remarks, the chairman of Delta State NUJ, Comrade Mike Ikeogwu threw the hall into laughter with his remarks that the governor was indebted to journalists for not keeping to his media quarterly parley. A smile crossed the face of the governor. On a more serious note, Comrade Mike Ikeogwu appreciated the car gift to the south south national vice president and like Oliver Twist asked for a car for the state chairman of NUJ. Said Ikeogwu: ‘I know that the governor as the ‘Ekwueme‘ he is, our own car will soon come. I am trekking. Our bus is in bad shape and should we start it in this hall, everybody will run away from this place‘. He also pleaded with the governor on the completion of NUJ Secretariat, Asaba. He specially thanked the governor for the appointment of Mr. Monday Uwagwu as the general manager of The Pointer newspaper, adding that with that development, workers in the company will have the hope that one day; they could also be at head of affairs. He pledged the co-operation of all journalists in the state to continue to publicize the activities of the state government in the second term. In a vote of thanks, Comrade Edward Ogude made a case for the re-appointment of the media team of the governor including the former Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ukah. According to Ogude, the media team did a marvelous job for the government in explaining government policies and programmes to the people. At about 12.24pm, the media appreciation programme of the governor came to an end with Okowa moving round the hall and having handshake with journalists.