Issues: Dilemma Of Okowa's Prosperity Agenda In Delta State

Nigeria, October 16, 2015, (Blank NEWS Online) – 
Written by Ajalakpo Oweh (Courtesy: National Review Magazine)

Gov. Okowa
Gov. Okowa

The electorates in Nigeria’s South-Southern state of Delta are becoming apprehensive that the promises of prosperity that moved them to cast their votes for Governor Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa may turn out to be empty.;

Against the predictions of political bookmakers and soothsayers, Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa won the PDP governorship primaries. Despite the political realities of forces against him and the fact that the former governor of the state, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan was supporting Tony Obuh, a former permanent secretary, Okowa getting the governorship ticket and eventually winning the race was perhaps divinely ordained.

He campaigned vigorously on the need for power shift to Delta North senatorial district as the former two governors; Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan and Chief James Ibori were from Delta South and Delta Central respectively. Okowa, a former senator, secretary to the state government and a former commissioner also campaigned on prosperity agenda. He promised the people of Delta State to build on the legacies of Uduaghan and that prosperity would be brought to the doorstep of every Deltan.

This was how Okowa explained his vision to the electorate in Delta: “My vision is to take Delta State to the status of the pacesetter in the Nigerian federation by building an enduring legacy of wealth and prosperity. At the end of my tenure as a governor, Delta State will be one in which there are gainful employment opportunities, a flourishing agriculture and agric business sector, effective health and educational systems, and renewed urban infrastructure and security that would enhance continued growth and prosperity for all Deltans”. Thus the prosperity agenda of the governor caught the imagination and attention of all Deltans as prominent Deltans made testimonies of the ability and capacity of Okowa to take the state to a different level of development and progress.

A prominent Isoko man and a former Attorney- General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief APJ Okpakpor said Delta State was in good hands as Okowa captains the ship of the state and that all Deltans should be ready to drink from the spring of development. Okpakpor spoke glowingly of the Okowa vision: “Senator Okowa is the best fit to rule Delta State. The man who is fit is good to all people, no matter where he comes. There can be no better candidate than Okowa. As an Isoko man, I urge all Isoko people, home and elsewhere in the state, all Urhobo people, my fellow southern Deltans, and all Delta people to support Senator Okowa for governor of Delta State, come 2015”.
This was also the theme worked on by a former Minister of Information and Culture, Prof Sam Oyovbaire on the need for Deltans to support Okowa. Listen to his plea: ‘I am very confident that Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as governor would lead our people well. He is the only governorship aspirant in Delta State that I know of that is completely at home with the people across ethnic divide, always making himself available to them. Dr Okowa`s knowledge and experience complement the governance asset of Nigeria`s political class at the regional and federal levels. He is our Man of the Moment.

Indeed the man of the moment and the candidate that promised to bring prosperity to all Deltans instead gave the electorate a shocker after his inauguration on May, 29, 2015. In a major policy decision, the governor sent thousands of workers packing. According to the governor, the sack of the workers employed by the previous government from December 2013 to May 2015 became necessary because it did not pass the due process and the employment was done in favour of some sections of the state. This, according to the governor, negates the spirit of fairness and against the Pan Delta agenda of his administration.

The sacked workers were not amused and same with labour unions in the state. Even the May salaries of workers were paid almost three weeks into June and some people began to wonder what stripe of prosperity for Deltans that would deny workers of their just entitlements. Furthermore, a source close to the state NLC disclosed that the union dues of workers and the deductions from co-operatives societies of workers were also owed by the state government.

As if these were not enough, the governor appearing before the state House of Assembly disclosed that the debt profile of the government was running into several billions of Naira. He told Deltans that the government of Uduaghan left a debt of N637.22 billion, adding that it would be pretty difficult to meet the economic and social obligations to the people. This is the financial profile of the state as painted by Okowa: “It is obvious from available statistics that the state will run a monthly deficit of about N2billion and would need to borrow to pay salaries of its workers, and finance the running cost of government. Prior to my assumption of office, the state government has been hard put to pay workers salaries. Ministries, departments and agencies of government have been running at half steam due to the inability of the state to provide money for their operations. The staffs of most local governments in the state have been on strike due to non-payment of salaries. This is the dilemma that we face as we strive to deliver on our campaign promise of prosperity for all”.

Thus the dilemma of putting concrete reality to the prosperity agenda is further compounded by the fact that the state government borrowed the sum of N10 billion to meet some financial obligations and what is common on the lips of Deltans is where would the government get money to finance the wealth creation project. Today the micro credit programme, the star project of the Uduaghan administration that won many awards and world acclaim is in limbo. The account of the agency has been frozen and same is the leather work factory at Issele-Uku. It has also been reported that there is a frosty relationship between Dr Antonia Ashiedu, the woman behind the success of micro-credit programme and the state governor. All these are pointers to the fact that the prosperity agenda may have hit the rocks already.

The APC, the main opposition in the state reacted that the prosperity agenda of the government would come to nothing and that it was a political gimmick to win votes. On the disclosure of the state of finance inherited by Okowa, the media adviser to APC, Mr Martins Mukoro maintained that Okowa was playing to the gallery. He argued thus: “The governor is merely setting the stage by crying wolf to divert attention and in order to lay the foundation for him to go and borrow more money, thereby plunging the state into deeper financial disaster. Okowa represents no change but more of the same PDP 16 years of misrule. Okowa was not an onlooker but a key participant in the state and he is in no position to rescue Delta from the mess created by the past administration. If indeed Okowa insists he has been onlooker and truly expects Deltans to believe he was not party to the financial rot, let him immediately and urgently institute a panel to probe the huge debt in order to unearth how it was accumulated and who were the beneficiaries of the massive plundering of our commonwealth”.

But speaking in Warri, Mr Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh, a business man and a scion of the famous Festus Okotie-Eboh, the first Finance Minister of Nigeria, said that those who have doubts about the implementation of the prosperity agenda of Okowa were making a serious error of judgement. Okotie-Eboh maintained that going by the track record of Okowa as a former senator and a commissioner, he has no doubt in his mind that the debt profile will not pose as obstacle to the laudable agenda. Okotie-Eboh explained further on the possibility of the agenda that “The realization of prosperity for all Deltans is very possible. With proper management of the resources available, prudence, proper coordination, he will realize it. All he needs do is to diversify the economy of the state by investing in agriculture, solid minerals and other areas that we have not looked into before now. I know he has plans before indicating interest to run but I will still advise that he blocks all the loopholes where tax payers’ money is going to individuals pockets. He should not look at oil at all. Let oil be secondary in his agenda. Doing so will make him take other areas serious. Another thing he needs to do is to see how our internal revenue could be improved”. Okotie-Eboh argued that all the prophets of doom would be proved wrong when the prosperity agenda begins to manifest in the lives of Deltans and residents in the state.

The opposing sentiments of the prosperity agenda notwithstanding, the state governor is in a dilemma as he confessed before the State House of Assembly because of the dwindling economic fortunes of the state as result of the crash of crude oil prices. The choice is that of the governor, to disarm the critics of the project by creative and strategic economic policies that would bring more revenue to the state. He could start doing that by first of all meeting the monthly obligations to workers and paying the pensioners in the state. The prosperity agenda would be meaningless if pensioners cannot get their just entitlements. Okowa sits on the horns of dilemma and in a delicate economic balancing art to bring to fruition his electoral promise of brining prosperity to all Deltans.

**Courtesy: National Review Magazine (Ajalakpo Oweh, is a seasoned journalist who writes in from Delta state. He covers the southern sub-region of Nigeria for the National Review magazine.)

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