Okowa, Delta

*Discusses security, unity, ASUU, poverty, economy, true federalism…

By Jide Ajani, General Editor

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa: Straight from the blues! His nomination, that is! Okowa’s choice as running mate to Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, could not have been scripted.  But he has been chosen. 

This governor of Delta State and Abubakar, whom the former calls ‘my principal’, have a problem to deal with;  The Wike Weakness!  Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Rivers State governor has been making useful noises to ventilate his displeasure at not being picked – he came second in the PDP presidential contest.  So, Governor Okowa and his principal must deal with that.

But time will not freeze.

Okowa is described by those who know him as a political strategist, consensus builder and grassroots mobiliser, insisting that his political philosophy is driven by conviction, not convenience, commitment, not compromise.

As an administrator, Governor Okowa is seen as being deep, disciplined, competent, process driven, and very meticulous. Abubakar said that much about him. His broad experience as LG Secretary, LG Chairman, three-time Commissioner, SSG, and Senator are qualities that put him in good stead to manage Delta State at a very difficult period in the nation’s history. 

Unassuming, yet unafraid, unpretentious, yet unflinching and humble, he pricked the nation’s conscience last Friday in Abuja, when he spoke extempore at an event ,where he represented his principal.  He spoke about Nigeria’s parlous state just as he claimed the destiny of Nigeria can only be redeemed by the PDP ticket.

Described as calm, levelheaded and very respectful of all – the old and young, the rich and the poor, as well as the powerful and the powerless – Okowa and his PDP would need to get their act together as an opposition.  The party hugs the headlines almost everyday for the wrong reasons and that can never be helpful.  But that, too, is their problem.

The following are Okowa’s thoughts and Nigerians can hold him down to them should PDP take over Aso Rock Presidential Villa next year.

(Resourced by Dapo Akinrefon, Gabriel Olawale and Ezra Ukanwa)

Security

Insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, criminal herdsmen operations and all purveyors of insecurity need to be tackled frontally and transparently, in a way to obviate the popular impression that they are executors of a pre-planned genocide. The war against terror is seriously undermined when ransom is paid to these criminal elements.

Every good security system consists of three main components: people, processes, and platforms. It is exigent that our security personnel be properly grounded in scientific methods of crime prevention, detection, and investigation. It is also my considered view (and that of our team) that there is an urgent need to re-examine the filters through which an individual becomes a police officer (not policeman) for a more professional and disciplined police force.

Aside from a modern security architecture anchored on technology, we must muster the political will to deal decisively with criminals, regardless of their ethnic groups, religions, or status. Our security agencies must be well funded and equipped; training of personnel to build capacity and collaboration between agencies is key. Furthermore, directives must be clear and goals unambiguous.

The most critical component for constructing a strategic and effective partnership for community policing is trust between the police and the people they serve. Trust is the glue that binds the parties together, and the foundation that enables problem solving and conflict resolution.  In addition, there must be cooperation between security agencies, sharing of intelligence and joint operations where necessary. And the partnership between the Police Command and the State Governments must be one of utmost trust and goodwill and the Governors should, in the spirit of the Constitution, be given the leeway to exercise their function as Chief Security Officers of the States.

Atiku and Nigeria’s state of flux

The Nigeria of today appears very frightening but we can not lose hope. It is possible working together, trusting together to begin a rebuilding process and that rebuilding process starts from 2023 when Atiku Abubakar becomes president. People ask, I don’t want to play politics but I have had to speak about it, I do not demean all those who are running for Presidency but when we look at what is playing out in Nigeria, there are loads of problems and if we do not elect the right person, we will find ourselves getting someone who will get on seat and stays confused on that seat because the problems will overwhelm him because he will not know how to start.

If everything was working as it works  in other developed countries where their issue is not even about infrastructure, their issue is not about educational institutions, because all those ones are taken for granted as they appear, their issue is not about communication, it is not about power because all those things are there. It is much easier to govern in those nation’s where the rule of law is taken for granted because institutions are working but when you work in a country like Nigeria and other West African countries, where the issues are different and require a lot of deep thoughts, require a lot of positive experience that can truly enable you to govern and to be able to bring everybody to reason on the table and be inclusive on the governance process and in the policy making process, we need to put our best foot forward and that person is Atiku Abubakar.

Not too many people have such experiences. I believe that the Nigeria of today is too fractured. There are so many contending voices, people are speaking in different directions, our oneness is being threatened, why? Not because of the north and south or Muslim and Christian but because there is frustration everywhere. There is poverty everywhere. We don’t seem to have the answers because everything just appears to be going downhill and then the issue of Social Security is no longer there.

We must lead by example. It is a fact of life that people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.  As 2023 approaches, the focus should be on electing a pan Nigerian as president, a person with the capacity, charisma, and, most importantly, the experience to cast a vision for Nigeria and rally all Nigerians behind it. We need a liberal, broadminded, and capable president like Atiku Abubakar that will be a unifying force for all Nigerians; a leader who values merit over mediocrity, competence over cronyism, while upholding the fundamental principles of fairness, equity, and justice.

ASUU

The insecurity in the land is worsening and our economy is in such a place that it appears the foundation is totally shattered; our educational system is obviously very challenged. What you see today is not what you anticipated, where children are out for six months on ASUU Strike, so you don’t even know when you will leave school; you don’t know when you will start. That ought not to be so.

Our presidential candidate, his private University, is running very well. In my state, Delta state, I have three state universities, they are in session and they are running. It depends on what importance you attach to education.

If you cannot attach enough importance to the education of your children, you’re destroying their future, you are preventing them from getting to a position where they’re able to contribute to the growth and the sustainability of humanity. We cannot continue in that state.

Poverty

What is going on today is because we have created poverty for ourselves across Nigeria, because we have failed. We have failed to manage a whole lot of things, beyond managing our resources, we have also failed to manage our populations and we are failing to manage our family sizes in such a manner that we are growing poverty on a daily basis and when they say we have a large population in Nigeria, we are suppose to pride ourselves for the population of youths in this country.

But, the youths are traumatized with poverty, with failure to access to health, failure to access to education and then they are living in poverty and in penury. With the number of youths, rather than make them productive, we are actually creating an army of vexed people which will continue to heighten the insecurity in this country. So, there are so many issues we have to attend to. So the youths have a role to assist and to work with the leadership of this country to begin to re-educate our people to reemphasize education; to reemphasize population management; reemphasize the issues that can truly help us. What was the population that we had in those days in Nigeria? What is the population now? Our economy is dwindling and the population is growing very fast and the economy is going downhills.

How would you manage that economy? There are issues and we have failed to discuss those issues. We have barriers everywhere in all spheres of life.  We cannot continue to frustrate the young.  So, we need to begin and continue to develop and continue together. That is what Abubakar Atiku stands for, that is what I stand for, and I believe that that is what each and every one of you (in Nigeria) stand for.

Rebuilding trust in a united Nigeria

A huge trust deficit and sharp divisiveness still prevail in the Nigerian polity. The common index of these is the various agitations for secession from different parts of the country. Other manifestations of lack of trust in the system and the state of a divided Nigeria are:

–  the unusually large number and the high frequency of demonstrations and protests, the most prominent of which was the 2020 #EndSARS nation-wide protests;

–  labour discontent and frequent strikes often due to Government’s failure to implement negotiated and duly signed agreements;

–  persistent calls for restructuring, fiscal federalism and devolution of powers to the states;

–  insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, etc, leading to barbaric destruction of lives and property. 

Still other manifestations of mistrust and disunity are:

–  the proliferation of zonal security outfits and ethnic militias because, apparently, the Federal Security Agencies have become either ill-equipped, poorly funded or incapable to protect all citizens;

–  increasing number of non-governmental organizations for the protection of human and child’s rights;

–  increase in unemployment- and poverty-induced crimes, such as cybercrimes, human trafficking, and international prostitution. All of these derive from general discontent with the quality of governance, frustration and disappointment of the citizenry who feel betrayed by those they elected to power, and anger, raw anger, at the deplorable state of the nation.  The herdsmen/farmers’ conflict is fast becoming the greatest threat to our nation’s unity and economic well-being. The nomadic Muslim Fulani pastoralist and the largely Christian farmers of various ethnicities have continued to clash resulting in loss of economic crops, cattle, and life.  This threat to our country’s stability and unity needs to be addressed urgently by our federation.

It is my opinion that ranching is a way out of this challenge.  I also think it is time we embraced the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with membership drawn from the six geo-political zones. I do not canvass for a Commission that will dig into history to apportion blames and pass judgment on former political leaders. Rather, I envisage a Commission that will freely discuss the current state of the nation, debate the things that bind or divide us, proffer strategies to reconcile our differences, and recommend a sustainable path to true nationhood based on good governance. I think this is important in the light of all that the country is going through right now.

Economy

Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) have been globally recognised as engines of rapid economic growth, wealth creation, employment generation and social inclusion. They are also known as incubators of innovation while providing opportunities for increased participation of women in the economy. Defined as enterprises with less than ten employed persons and annual turnover of less than N20 million, MSMEs are more feasible and attractive to the mass of people seeking entrepreneurship, self-employment, livelihood incomes and economic participation.

This has been our approach in Delta State under my watch as Governor and which our presidential candidate is poised to replicate at the national level. We believe that the way out of the unemployment quagmire is to equip the youth with the technical know-how, vocational skills, values, and resources to become self-employed, as distinct from one-off empowerment.

This is what my administration has done in Delta State by instituting various skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes targeted at different segments of the population. These programmes are trainee-centred and service-oriented. The sectors and activities covered include agriculture, agricultural value chain services, vocational skills-based microenterprises, and cottage enterprises.

I am pleased to let you know that, after years of faithful implementation of these programmes, we have trained and given business support packages to about 130,000 youths. This figure excludes the over one million indirect jobs created through our massive investments in road and physical infrastructure.

As evidence of the economic impacts of our MSMEs policies and programmes, statistics derived from the economic data of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that there was accelerated growth of the services sector, which is structurally dominated by micro and small enterprises from average annual rate of 8.9% (2013-2015) to the current annual average rate of 13.2% (2015-2017). Similarly, the agricultural sector interventions resulted in agricultural growth from annual average of 8.6% (2013-2015) to annual average of 13.3% (2015-2017).

Health

As a member of the Seventh Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and as Chairman of the Committee on Health, I was instrumental in the passage of the National Health Act, which provides the legal framework for the regulation, development, and management of the National Health System, and setting standards for the rendering of health services in the Nigerian federation. Among other things, the Act prescribes for the policy and governance structure of the Healthcare Delivery Processes as well as the establishment of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund.

It is quite unnerving and disquieting that less than 5% of the 191 million (World Bank 2017) Nigerians are currently covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme introduced in 2005. The implication of this is that over 180 million persons have little or no protection from the financial hardship resulting from healthcare service.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Ghana which introduced the NHIS in 2003 has achieved 40% national coverage.  It is a thing of joy and pride for me that under my watch, Delta became the first State in the Federation to commence Universal Health Coverage with the establishment of the Delta State Contributory Health Commission in February 2016. Currently, the number of enrollees in the scheme stands at 1,130,884, the highest in the country by any state, with 510 accredited healthcare facilities.

Nigeria now has the highest maternal and child mortality rate in the world overtaking India in 2015 even though our population is less than one fifth that of India. A review of the Second National Strategic Development Plan is, therefore, imperative to enhance the practicality of its operationalization in view of the fiscal constraints the country is currently facing.

Education

In today’s knowledge economy, education, not oil or natural resources, has become the competitive edge of serious countries all over the world. The meteoric rise of countries like Singapore, Malaysia, China, and South Korea that have leapfrogged other third world nations and joined the elite league of developed nations is due largely to the development of their human capital. Their experience bears eloquent testimony to the assertion that human resource accounts for 65% of a nation’s socio-economic development.

The biggest economic challenge in Nigeria today is youth unemployment. Unfortunately, our current educational system has adverse effects on the mentality of the graduates that we produce. Everybody is looking to the government or the few profitable private enterprises for gainful employment. It is my conviction that technical/vocational education holds the key to solving our unemployment problem. Technical, vocational, and entrepreneurial education will enable graduate youths to function as wealth creators and job creators, in addition to giving them employability skills. This has been our approach in Delta where the existing six technical colleges have been revived, rehabilitated, and equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. Ten new ones are currently at different stages of completion.

We need more money. We also need more reforms. One area where that is urgently needed is in curriculum review and development. Continuous teacher training and development must be a priority. There can be no quality education without quality teachers. There are still far too many teachers who are lacking in innovative teaching strategies such as digital user experience, content knowledge, classroom management, communication and collaboration required of the 21st century teacher.

Lastly, there is the urgent need for parental involvement in the public school system. It is our responsibility as policy makers, lawmakers and as educators to put the necessary structures in place for efficient service delivery to our students and communities. It is also the responsibility of every citizen to participate in the process by taking active interest in the running of the schools and the academic performance of their children.

True Federalism

I believe in true federalism as it relates to fiscal federalism, devolution of powers, state police, and local government creation by states. Some of the features that qualify a political system to be referred to as “federal” include, among others:

acceptable and legitimate division of powers among different tiers of government; a written constitution delineating such division; the coordinate supremacy of the levels of government about their respective functions; and a considerable measure of autonomy – fiscal, legislative, and judicial – of the Federal Government and the federating units.

The 1999 Constitution (as amended) centralizes political and economic powers in the Federal Government and emasculates the States by denying them powers to secure their own territories and control their natural resources for the development of their territories and people.

Take allocations from the federation account, for instance. While the federal government takes 52.68%, the 36 States and 774 Local Governments that carry most of the burden of development get 26.72% and 20.60%, respectively!  This does not augur well for effective grassroots development, inclusive economic growth, and social cohesion.

There is too much power at the centre, and this needs to be devolved to the federating units for greater effectiveness and efficiency. The devolution of powers and resources to the subnational governments, and the guaranteeing of a constitution that allows equity, justice for all and inclusiveness in governance such that none is left out or oppressed is imperative. Urgent steps need to be taken to ensure fairness in resource allocation, taking into cognizance the degradation of the environment by the oil and gas resources and the impact on the health and livelihood of Niger-Deltans.

Anti-Corruption

I am fully in support of the current anti-corruption war, but our institutions must be democratic and civil in their actions, and the rule of law must be the guiding principle. Due processes must be followed, and an integrity test must be performed within the institutions, and their application of the law among the citizenry, ensuring that there is no bias to retain public confidence. The party in government must be seen to drive the process with sincerity of purpose to ensure buy-in by all. 

As against the current practice of media trial or arrest-before-investigation, I suggest that in the fight against corruption, the norm should be for the anti-graft agency to first conclude its investigations, indict persons involved, then arrest them and immediately proceed with prosecution in a court of competent jurisdiction. With this in place, the integrity of the process and outcomes will be better.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.