Gov Okowa came in the midst of storms even though the electoral victory was phenomenal. The challenges on ground were so many; the heat generated could melt a warship. The State’s debt profile was so intimidating that a less endowed leader could give up easily. To screw up matters the more, allocation from Abuja in the face of a crippling recession was less than half of what was required to pay salaries and wages of civil servants.
With bated breath, Deltans waited. The waiting was not long as the Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, was unperturbed as he put his hands to the plough. In spite of the grim situation he faced, he was bent on empowering youths of the State to build a solid foundation for a strong economy through the SMART agenda.
Youths were recruited and trained in various trades of their choices. It was an experiment that worked. His interest in growing the future of Delta State through the youths is phenomenal. Some 20,334 youths were trained in various skills.
Many participated through the Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programmed (YAGEP), and all is aimed at making the young boys and girls small-scale entrepreneurs – the Bulwark of the Asian Tigers – through starting small and growing big.
Granted that they need close monitoring, obviously in the next few years, there will be a ground swell of well-trained youths capable of holding their own in a competitive economic clime.
Direct job creation
Beyond this, is yet the direct job creation scheme where another set of over 6,000 unemployed youths have since set up businesses in Information and Communication Technology, catering, event management, beauty services, agricultural production and processing, food packaging, tiling, plumbing and electrical installation among others.
Sequel to a satisfactory independent evaluation of the successes recorded in the job creation scheme, the World Bank/European Union SEEFOR Project provided funding support for the 2017-2018 Cycle of the STEP and YAGEP scheme while Delta-born champion of entrepreneurship, Mr Tony Elumelu, through his Tony Elumelu Foundation, pledged financial support of N500m to support the STEP and YAGEP programmes. More than 100,000 direct and indirect private sector jobs were created through youth empowerment interventions and programmes in infrastructure development activities.
To ensure that trainees are well guided in their new-found business environment, the governor established a monitoring and mentoring agency for all job creation beneficiaries. The good news today is that some entrepreneurs raised by the programme, no fewer than 6,450 of them between 2015 and 2019, have become employers of labour while the multiplier effects on society speak volumes.
In appreciation of Okowa’s job creation strategy, the Orodje of Okpe, HRM General Felix Mujakperuo, Orhue I, had remarked that “the era of white collar jobs are gone, because they are very limited. We have seen a lot of them who were trained and empowered and have employed other persons. Some of them in fashion designing and tailoring are already exporting their products outside Nigeria. The Job Creation Scheme is a huge success”. “Yearly, people are graduating from the universities and the polytechnics and it will be a problem if these youths are not engaged,” he added.
To date, the Okowa’s administration has established additional 12 public primary and 34 secondary schools across the State to improve access to education in rural and difficult-to-reach terrains and decongest existing schools in urban areas. Delta State, with a total of 1,126 public primary schools, 466 secondary schools, six technical colleges and 10 vocational centres, has a total enrolment of 285,236 primary school pupils in the 2019-2020 session while secondary schools’ registration stood at 2741,151 and technical colleges, 4,979.
To improve the quality of infrastructure in public schools in the state, Okowa paid a total of N5.2 billion counterpart funds of the Universal Basic Education Fund for the years 2013-2017 and accessed marching grants of N5.2 billion, bringing total investments on public school infrastructure to N10.4 billion.
In all, a total of 5,667 classrooms were constructed and renovated through the joint efforts of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and Delta State Oil Producing Communities Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC). The administration has procured a total of 140,478 students’ furniture and 22,440 teachers’ furniture.
To improve security in the public schools, a total of 87 block wall fence were constructed, 81 science laboratory blocks were constructed and renovated and 30 solar-powered boreholes were also constructed to provide potable water and sanitation in the schools in line with Goal 6 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One other area the Okowa-led administration has strengthened its focus on the leaders of tomorrow is technical and vocational education. On assumption of office in 2015, the Governor sent a Bill to the House of Assembly for an enabling law to establish the Delta State Technical and Vocational Education Board (TVEB). He ensured full operationalisation of the fully rehabilitated six technical colleges and vocational education centres across the State.
With the success recorded by the huge investments in technical education, Okowa has assured Deltans of better days ahead as his administration intends to establish 19 more technical colleges in the state to ensure that every local government area has one. In fact, work has begun in the construction of nine colleges, out of the 19.
To improve capacity-building in the training and retraining of teachers in the State, the Okowa administration established the Teachers Professional Development Centre(TPDC), Owa-Oyibu, in Ika North East Local Government Area for the upgrade, re-tooling and training of teachers at all levels and at all times.
Under the auspices of TPDC, the government commenced training of 6,504 personnel of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Post Primary Education Board (PPEB), TVEB, SUBEB, N-Power and volunteer teachers at the community level and 100 French teachers across the State in 2016. The government also recruited 1,000 teachers to fill vacancies created by the retirement and death of some teachers, especially in core areas in science and technical education.
Governor Okowa has completed the abandoned Specialist Hospital in Asaba and upgraded its physical infrastructure to enhance institutional capacity for service delivery. The government also launched the Contributory Health Insurance Scheme for all Deltans, and pays for the Under-five (5), pregnant women and the elderly in society.
Since the establishment of the Delta State Contributory Health Commission (DSCHC), with N7,000 annual payment by an enrollee, a total of 702,413 enrollees, comprising Formal Health Plan, 168,516; Informal Health Plan, 11,187 and Equity Health Plan, 522,710 and counting, have so far registered for the Contributory Health Insurance, and to encourage effective health coverage, the state government has completed rehabilitation of 63 Secondary Health Care facilities and 110 Primary Health Care facilities and the engagement of 52 standard Private Health Care providers for the scheme.
The strength of any leader can be measured in his ability to respond to emergencies such as the Coronavirus pandemic ravaging most countries of the world. Here in Delta State, Okowa was rated excellent by Thisday Newspapers for his professional response to the pandemic. He established holding and isolation centres and procured ventilators and other equipment needed for the management of COVID-19 patients even at a time when the virus was yet to be recorded in the State. In the report, Thisday said Delta had not been caught napping in the battle against Covid-19 as the State government took proactive steps to effectively contain the disease long before it recorded its index case.
“Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, a medical doctor, as one accustomed to instinctive response to even the most challenging of emergencies, had promptly set up a response team comprising State health ministry officials and the State coordinator of the NCDC, headed by the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Mordi Ononye.
Six holding centres, which were later increased to 12, were promptly created across the State within 24 hours, after the Federal Government announced the first case in Nigeria involving an Italian in Lagos, in February. Four isolation centres were subsequently created at FMC Asaba, Central Hospital, Asaba, Central Hospital. Warri and DELSUTH, Oghara.
“Aside the state-of-the-art medical and communicable disease-control facilities and personal protection equipment, 20 ventilators were dedicated to the management centres. Various special duty allowances had also been announced for the medical and health workers,” the newspaper wrote.
Sports development under Governor Okowa has received a tremendous boost with the completion of the world Class Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba and the successful hosting of 52 countries for the African Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba, 2018. The state government also hosted the AITEO Cup Finals in conjunction with Nigeria Football Federation and got FIFA certification of Stephen Keshi Stadium as venue for international matches, which led to the successful hosting of the Cranes of Uganda in an international friendly with the Super Eagles.
The governor also revamped school sports in the state with the re-launching of the long-rested annual Principal’s Cup Football Competition for secondary schools now known as the Zenith Bank Delta Principal’s Cup; the annual Headmasters’ Cup. Football Competition for Primary Schools and the maiden edition of the School Sports Festival, which were held in May, 2019. Delta State’s dominance in sports in the country was again re-enacted with it coming tops in all three editions of the National Youth Games held in Ilorin, Kwara, in 2016, 2017 and 2018 as well taking first position in the 2018 National Sports Festival held in Abuja.
Governor Okowa was named the “2018 Vanguard Personality of the Year” for his diligent delivery of democratic gains, working to make Nigeria’s democracy better. He has provided good governance, rapid rural development, traders and youth empowerment, and has worked harmoniously with his deputy, Deacon Kingsley Burutu Otuaro, to ensure peace and harmony in oil-bearing communities, among the political class and critical support for security agencies, among others.
He has indeed, kept faith with his campaign promises to the people. In appreciation of Otuaro’s contributions to peace in the Niger Delta, he was conferred with the Niger Delta Peace Ambassador Award 2019 by the Daily Independent Newspapers Limited.
As the governor begins his sixth year at Dennis Osadebay House, Delta’s seat of power, it is safe to say that Okowa has redefined governance, taking sustainable development and prosperity for all Deltans beyond mere promises.
For him, the era of abandoned projects is over in Delta, because what we are witnessing is a regime of initiating and delivering every project started. It is skewed toward leaving behind, an enduring legacy.
The next three years promise to be the best years for Deltans as the governor has assured of a “Stronger Delta”. With faith in God and with the unity and peaceful co-existence of all Deltans, the State would have become a place worthy to be called an “Oil-Rich State” because with Okowa, Delta is truly in the hand of God!
*Ifeajika is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okowa.
By Olise Ifeajika