It is nearly eight months since Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa took over the mantle of leadership in Delta State, after winning the April 2015 governorship election. The medical doctor turned politician who is popularly called “Ekwueme” was a member representing Delta North Senatorial district in the National Assembly.
Since assumption of office , Governor Okowa has shown that he has adequate grasp of the problems confronting the people of Delta State among which are paucity of funds, state indebtedness , infrastructural collapse , inadequate human capital development among others, amidst high expectations and trust that the people placed on him, and the urgent need to improve on the standard of living of his people.
Okowa , a seasoned administrator, is not unmindful of the task and the impediments ahead, hence the need to take pragmatic steps to get around these challenges. In hitting the ground running, Okowa instituted Economic Management Team to formulate robust economic policies that will address the Socio-economic challenges confronting the state in line with his campaign promises; to bring prosperity to all Deltans as encapsulated in the SMART agenda.
In driving the initial process of governance, Okowa within one week of his inauguration sponsored three Executive Bills in the State House of Assembly; Delta State Contributory Health Commission Bill,2015, Technical and Vocational Education Board Bill ,2015, and Asaba Capital Development Agency Bill, 2015. These agencies have since currently operational. Okowa also gave strength to the Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Agency (DESOPADEC) law by restructuring the management team.
Breaking New Grounds;
The result of Governor Okowa’s economic policy recently came to fore when last week, 6,000 youths graduated from a government –sponsored six months intensive skill acquisition and entrepreneurial programme at the Songhai Delta, Amukpe , Delta State.
Governor Okowa had on August 26, 2015 inaugurated the job and wealth creation scheme with a mandate to create employment for 60,000 persons over the next four years,
The wealth and job creation programme available to youths are; the Youth Agricultural and Entrepreneurs Programme (YEGEP), Skill Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP), Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP) and Micro- Credit. These schemes are designed to teach youths skills, tackle unemployment and raise entrepreneurs in the state.
Shortly after the graduation, the state government empowered the graduands with starter packs. The beneficiaries were trained on event management and decoration, hair dressing, barbing, tiling, POP and interlocking/landscape, in Songhai-Delta, Amukpe, to tackle youth unemployment and combat poverty through entrepreneurship schemes as encapsulated in the Governor’s SMART agenda.
The entrepreneurs were dispersed with starter packs, including take off grants and a monthly stipend to sustain their businesses for three months. The Governor warned them against the temptation of auctioning the starter-packs.
The Governor, accompanied by top government officials during the passing out ceremony said although cynicism greeted the scheme at the initial stage, the passing-out ceremony was undeniable proof that our critics were wrong.
The governor said, ‘A little over six months ago when we commenced this journey, there were not a few skeptics who thought it was another one of those government empowerment programmes that would eventually be scuttled by political intrigue, god-fatherism, corruption and bureaucratic red tape. Even some of the participants here were not left out in this widespread cynicism. Their initial interest was to see how they could, as was the norm in the past, get their share of the ‘national cake’ before the programme is abandoned.”
Okowa declared the programme a success, adding that only five persons dropped out of the course.
His words, “I am informed that only five persons did not complete the course. Out of the five, one got a paid employment while another person unfortunately passed on. So, technically, only three persons dropped out from a set of 776 trainees. That translates to 99.2% performance, an unprecedented record with a scheme like this.”
According to him, the high retention rate is the result of the rigorous screening and selection process of the job and wealth creation scheme.
He urged the trainees to put into practice the principles learnt from the training, stressing that success in business requires focus, diligence, careful planning, excellent service and prudent management of resources.
Also speaking during the distribution of the working tools, Prof. Eric Eboh, the State Chief Job Creation Officer, SCJCO, in Asaba, revealed that a number of measures have been put in place to enable the artisans succeed.
He said gone were the days when such opportunities were abused by recipients of government gesture as he said the artisans were established to become employers of labour and change the economic landscape of Delta State.
According to him, monitoring and mentoring mechanisms have been put in place to ensure sustainability of the programe and its quality compliance by the recipients.
He said, “The mentoring is in collaboration with the Micro Credit and Poverty Alleviation Programme of the state government. We shall then from time to time visit them, know how they cope with the business, advice where necessary in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past.”
Since assumption of office, Okowa has not left any one in doubt as to his preparedness at ensuring that the state’s infrastructural deficits are tackled with appreciable precision. So far, the state government has constructed three Technical Collages located in Sapale, Ofagbe and Agbor all in a bid to give emphasis to vocational education and skill acquisition at the tertiary levels of education which is a key aspect in government intervention in the education sector.
Other decisive steps in the education sector include the completion work of the faculty of law at Oleh campus of the Delta State University. Also, last week the state organized a stakeholders’ summit in Asaba, aimed at repositioning Education in Delta state with emphasis on improved teaching methods, innovation, better learning outcomes, community involvement and social transformation.
Governor Okowa, told the gathering of intellectuals and other stakeholders who attended the Summit, chaired by the renowned legal Icon, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), that, “I believe that all children deserve a chance to achieve their full potential in life, which can only happen when they are given the right kind of education that is not only based on universal access but also anchored on innovation, rigorous standards, teaching excellence, digital learning and continuous improvement”.
According to Governor Okowa, funding gaps, out-dated curriculum, lack of continuous teachers’ education and inadequate participation of parents and community leaders in the education system are part of the challenges confronting the education sector in the state.
He pointed out that, “Our goal is to provide the best education available for every student with strong emphasis on science, vocational and technical education, as we hope to harness the power of technology to empower our children with rigorous, high quality, customized education necessary for them to thrive in today’s dynamic market place.” This, he said, is to avoid the scenario of the prevalence of high school leavers and adults who do not possess the knowledge and critical thinking skills required for the technically complex job of the 21st century.
Rural and urban road development is another area that has received priority attention in the development agenda in Delta State. In fulfillment of his promise, Okowa has embarked on massive development of roads across the state. Recently, he gave approval for the construction of some major roads across the state, which are critical roads for the effective operations of both rural and urban dwellers.
The roads among others are: Owa-Eki/Owa-Alero road which would be dualized, while the Ughelli-Afisere-Ufoma road would be reconstructed, as well as the Okpare-Umolu-Kiagbodo Road would be rehabilitated and the Kefas Road, Oleh would be extended to the Emede-Olomoro road junction.
Other roads that are receiving the attention of the state government are the construction and dualization of the old Lagos/Asaba road in Boji Boji Owa/Agbor, the Okpanam road is nearing completion , the Cable Point road dualisation project , Asaba. Also, the state’s Direct Labour Agency (DLA) has swung into action with the rehabilitation of about 40 inter-city link roads in some major cities of the state.
Okowa has equally focused his attention on the rehabilitation and construction of roads in Uvwie local government area, as the rehabilitation of Jebbo/Omadino road, while the Ozanogo road in Ika South is nearing completion. Four roads in Okpe LGA have been awarded for construction. The Sapele dualisation project and Oleh compus road have been completed.
Another area in which significant progress has been made in the state is healthcare where the government has continued to sustain free maternal health and child care programme. This is supported with the provision of medical equipment and adequate staffing of existing health institutions. The governor recently announced the commencement of the rehabilitation of Abavo and Patani General Hospitals to boost healthcare delivering in the state.
Other critical areas addressed by the governor include the presentation of cheque and Pick-Up Van to victims of flood disaster at camp 74 fish farm in Asaba, the state capital. Governor Okowa has also performed the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Asaba City Mall , while works have reached advanced stage at the up grading of the Asaba International airport run-way, and other facilities to meet the NCAA specified standards in response to the request of FAAN.
On rural and agricultural development initiatives, the state government has also attained a milestone. The government has procured tractors for hire by genuine farmers at subsidized rates under the Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP). Cheques running into millions of naira have been presented to beneficiaries of the Micro –Credit and Agricultural Loan Scheme.
A key strategy that has put Okowa’s administration one step ahead of others is said to be his principle of ‘government by consultation’ in which every segment of the stakeholders is carried along in all decisions affecting the people. In this manner, government decision making process weeds out possible bickering that often snowballs into a political warfare. This prompted the convocation of the Delta State Education Summit which held in Asaba.
A similar consultation was organized recently when a retreat was organized for government officials in Onicha- Ugbo for government officials. The government also held another Stakeholders Summit on Vandalism of Oil and Gas Facilities, as well as the summit at the Songhai-Delta, Amukpe, Sapele for the Board of Internal Revenue (DBIR) on how to increase the internally generated revenue in the state. Okowa also consulted with the people in the oil producing communities before initiating the process that that lead to the restructuring of DESOPADEC management.
The completion of the various development projects in the state will no doubt cost money. In the face of revenue drops from federal allocations, Okowa disclosed at the retreat that he has taken steps to shore up internally generated revenue [IGR].
According to the Governor, “this summit is very important because we need money to develop the state, we need money to drive our SMART agenda and with the dwindling oil price at the international market, we need to drive our IGR to a state we can say, we are doing very well.”
“What we generate every month is a little over N3 billion and I don’t believe that with the expanse of businesses in Delta State, that we have captured everybody within the tax net with such,” he said.
Emphasizing that, “I expect that within this year, I expect you (DBIR) to generate twice that amount of money, it is achievable; we have a population of over five million persons, with many growing cities, every hand must be on deck, we must go out, reach out to the people on the need to pay tax and devise ways to get every taxable person.”
The Governor added, “oil revenue can no longer satisfy our needs, it is a statement of fact and not paying tax by anybody is a criminal offense, it is fraudulent; tax is not to inflict pains on the very poor but to ensure that everybody is taxed based on the amount of money he generates.”
A significant step has been made in the area of industrial development when the governor accompanied President Muhammadu Buhari on a visit to India to discuss on the potentialities of revamping the Delta Steel Company, Aladjah . Just last week, Governor Okowa received a team of United Nation Industrial Organization (UNIDO) on areas of partnership in the area of entrepreneurship and skill acquisition in line with his administration’s job and wealth creation programme.
Okowa told the team lead by Mr. Phillippe Scholtes, Managing Director, Programmes Development and Technical Co-operation Division, UNIDO Headquarters, that the state government was ready to partner with UNIDO in the area of agro-business, especially aqua-culture, palm and cassava production and processing.
‘’We will co-operate with you beyond what we are doing now; we hope to partner with you in the area of agriculture especially, in the production and processing of cassava, palm and aqua-culture where we have comparative advantages,” he said, adding, “we believe that we must find ways of re-orientating our youths to make them embrace agriculture and skill acquisition as means of creating jobs and wealth.’’
He reiterated, ‘’As Nigeria’s population grows, there is the need to make sure that the people acquire skills that will make them job and wealth creators.’’
If these achievements can be recorded in just eight months despite the dwindling federal allocation, it follows that there are better days ahead of Deltans because what Okowa has achieved with meager resources in eight months clearly signals hope. Simply put, if he gets more revenue, he will surely deliver more dividends in pursuance of his prosperity for all Deltans’ agenda.
• Prince Victor Efeizomor is Print Media Assistant to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.