OKOWA: THIRTY DAYS AND COUNTING…
Finally the shape of the new Delta State Government is beginning to emerge, as Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa continues to unveil the team he will employ to execute his SMART agenda and deliver the promised Transformation for all Deltans. The latest members and by far the most critical set of the highly anticipated new team are the first tranche of nominated Commissioners for several portfolios in the new Delta State Executive Council.
They are: Barr. (Mrs) Mary Iyasere (Commerce and Industry), Hon. John Nani (Environment), Dr. Kingsley Emu (Economic Planning), Chief James Augoye (Works), Mr. Vincent Uduaghan (Transport), Mr. Newworld Safugha (Energy), and Mr. Joseph Ogeh (Housing), Mr. Fidelis Tilije (Water Resources Development), Rev. Mrs. Omashola Williams (Women Affairs), Mr. Austin Chikezie (Agriculture and Natural Resources), Hon. Joyce Overah (Science and Technology) and Mr. Chiedu Ebie (Basic and Secondary Education).
These Commissioners are joined by a list of Special Advisers; Bro. Emmanuel Ogidi (Rural Development and Peace Building), Sen. Emmanuel Aguariavwodo (Infrastructure and Housing Development), Rt. Hon. Martins Okonta (Land Resources and Legislative Matters), Hon. Pascal Adigwe (National Assembly Matters and Inter-governmental Liaison) and Comrade Mike Okeme (Labour Relations), all sworn-in as the first members of the new Delta State cabinet.
Rt. Hon. Festus Ovie Agas (SSG), Hon. Tams Brisibe (Chief Of Staff), Steve Eruotor (Deputy Chief of Staff), Chief Festus Ochonogor (Senior Political Adviser), Omimi Esquire (Political Adviser), a full complement of the Media headed by Jackson Ekwugom (Manager Communications) and Ehiedu Aniagwu (Chief Press Secretary), in addition to a dynamic team of Special Assistants led by the indefatigable Hon. Hillary Ibegbulam and a protocol department directed by Hon. Ifeanyi Eboigbe, complete what is so far the composition of the SMART symphony orchestra, according to Governor Okowa, from the executive end.
Another batch of Commissioners and a new set of three more Special Advisers from the already approved 17 by the Delta State House of Assembly, including Prof. Sylvester Monye (former Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Project Monitoring and Evaluation), are expected to be sworn-in before the 60 day mark of the administration elapses and hopefully answer a few more critical questions, even though Governor Okowa has already advised those who will not get appointments to key into the various programmes of government which, he assures, are almost just as rewarding as controlling a portfolio.
That Governor Okowa has achieved this seamless assemblage of a functional Executive team, with seeming effortless ease in the first Thirty days of his administration, is impressively remarkable and underscores once again, the widely held conviction that he was fully primed and completely prepared for the challenge of Governance as the next Governor of Delta State.
Several intriguing talking points have already emerged since May 29, when Governor Okowa took over the reins of government in Delta State, ranging from his personal administrative style to the policy pronouncements he has made and most importantly, the gravity of the revelations which has trailed the departure of the last administration and the state of affairs in Delta State, going forward.
Public perception, which is very critical in the assessment of his first month in office, has been a mixed bag of sympathy, uncertainty, resignation, subtle anger and a deliberate agenda of provocation which at once attempts to unsettle the well laid take-off plans and equally provide propaganda material for the ever present mischief makers and the genuine political and critical opposition as the administration unravels.
Many Deltans and Delta watchers are however agreed on the fact that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has hit the ground running and his personal style, from his declaration on inauguration Thanks-giving day that he should not be deified by people who seek to address him directly, even in church, to his dramatic style of announcing appointments and the recent admonition to well wishers and stakeholders not to spend their resources to felicitate with him on his birthday, but rather to deploy such genouristy and extravagance on the less privileged, have won him great admiration, especially among the many ordinary folk.
However, beyond the novelty of these simple and humane gestures, is the deeper, more instructive perception amongst discerning polity watchers, that the first thirty days of the Okowa administration has been coloured by a certain hovering cloud of controversy, particularly in 3 key areas viz: Appointments, Pronouncements and Actions.
Deltans may recall that on the day he inaugurated his transition teams, the then Governor-elect Okowa had hinted categorically that his incoming administration will not only restore the original vision and dynamism of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but would also ensure that he engaged the elderly and distinguished statesmen who had provided great leadership and direction to the state, but are now considerably hampered by age, in advisory capacities so their wealth of experience can continue to be utilized.
But not many believed however that Okowa would stretch public imagination to the very limits as manifested by the collective emotions of refreshing surprise and seeming disappointment which greeted the list of appointees, when the names started popping out; a situation which is still very palpable and has further been spiced not only by the portfolios distribution and most especially the 3 strategic positions he did not announce, namely Information, Justice and Finance.
Most discerning analysts opine that having taking care of his well articulated initial job creation and skills acquisition schemes through Agriculture by the crack team already engaged for the YAGEP and the other programmes, led by his re-branded Economic Planning Commissioner, Kingsley Emu, Governor Okowa should have, as a matter of re-assuring urgency, named a Commissioner for Finance, especially given the fact that funds have already started trickling into the depleted state coffers from loans and allocations, for which the 'disappearing Accountant General' Cyril Megbele remains arguably the primary custodian.
At another level, there is also the impression that despite assembling a fine team of media aides in government house, the whole collective information constituency, which has been a formidable propaganda machinery for the state government in times past is, for want of a more apt phrase, apprehensively expectant to hear the name of the next Commissioner for Information, not only for the fact that this is one of the more homogeneous and interactive ministries, but indeed is a barometer appointment to actually gauge the relationship between the Governor and the indigenous information machinery.
The argument for the Justice Commissioner reconciles itself with the fact that objective analysts refer to this season of election petitions tribunals, as a very crucial stage, especially given the formidable circumstance of the political complexion in this political dispensation. The argument here is that, despite Okowa's standard offer of his hand of fellowship to the opposition, the government is however best served by appointing a seasoned legal luminary as Attorney General to marshal the legal offensive, provide strategic direction and co-ordinate the distinguished legal minds already assembled to do justice to the defence of the petition at the Tribunal, even though the opposition would rather wish otherwise, all of which makes the appointment of a Commissioner for Justice even more tantalizing.
Away from appointments, the perceived controversy in the area of Pronouncements, include Governor Okowa's categorical statement denouncing Gay Marriage in view of all the attendant global attention the issue has attracted following its legalization by the United States of America.
But the main pronouncement which attracted so much commentary and evoked loyalty affiliations between past and present, in the first Thirty days of the Okowa administration, was the 'state of the State' address Governor Okowa delivered to the Delta State House of Assembly, where the inherited N632bn debt overhang from the past administration became the critical talking point, rather than the articulated efforts to shore up hope and define existing opportunities, which were contained and finely detailed in the address.
Embedded also in that State of financial affairs address to the Delta Legislature, are some of the actions which the fledgling administration had already taken and which individually and collectively have generated a solid base of intense discourse, even so early in the life of the administration.
The suspension of recruitments by the Civil Service Commission, made after December 31st 2013, which led to the redundancy of about 2, 000 hitherto employed persons into the civil service, has already tipped the controversy bar and drawn opprobrious parallels, with the avowed 'Prosperity for all Deltans' slogan of the Okowa administration, even as pleas by Governor Okowa himself for understanding and perseverance, in order to re-structure the recruitment process, may have been accepted with bitter/sweet expectations.
Also, the suspension of certain activities of the Delta State Board of Internal Revenue, DBIR and the re-branded Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Agency, headed by two of the more accepted members of the past administration, Joel Onowakpo-Thomas and Dr. Antonia Ashiedu, has attracted its own initial controversy, but the firmness of the Okowa administration and the unshakable resolve of Governor Okowa himself to plug all financial loopholes and leakages, minimize unproductive wastages, enhance the service efficiency of the agencies and ensure that, according to the governor, only deserving and visible Deltans, rather than bogus and unverifiable numbers are beneficiaries, particularly of the Micro credit scheme of the State government, have tempered some of that controversy.
The Delta State Capital Territory Development Bill 2015 and the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC Amendment Bill, are two legislations which have raised all kinds of ethnic and territorial agitations and combative advocacy, since they were forwarded to the Delta State House of Assembly by the Okowa administration.
Conspiracy theories, hinged on an alleged calculated attempt by the Okowa administration to marginalize specific sections of the state and deny them requisite social welfare and infrastructural development presence, have prompted quite a number of Deltans, particularly those from areas outside the capital territory, to view the State Capital Territory Development Bill with the kind of traditional suspicion, that is not likely to disappear until the implementation of the expected Law commences and surely brings in its wake, an expected razor sharp scrutiny for a new round of actual, perceived and imagined controversies.
In the same vein, the fervor of controversy on the DESOPADEC Bill, which even started in the last weeks of the Uduaghan administration, has now gathered more intensity with the re-presentation of the amended version of the Bill to the Delta Assembly, and despite Governor Okowa's robust efforts to explain the nature of the amendment, protests have greeted the perceived sense of injustice about to be allegedly meted to a particular ethnic nation, with the claim that they are about to be denied their turn to hold the top job in the Commission, with the amendment.
In explaining the nature of the amendment to the DESOPADEC Bill, Governor Okowa told a delegation of the state chapter of the Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil & Gas (HOSTCOM) led by Dr. Peter Egedegbe, when they paid him a visit on July 1, 2015, that; “We are not repealing the old law, it is not a new bill. The amendment we are proposing is to structure DESOPADEC in line with the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) model. I proposed that there should be a Managing Director and Executive Directors to run the day to day affairs of the Commission while there will be Commissioners who will be on part time basis and representing different ethnic nationalities.”
Okowa, by way of further explanation, said that the desire to make DESOPADEC more effective in delivering on its mandate and ensuring prudent and judicious utilization of resources, given the dire financial situation of the country, has made it imperative for the laws setting up the Commission to be amended for greater productivity and funds accessibility by the host communities.
He also assured members of HOSTCOM that while democratic principles would be applied and the people of the host communities engaged to contribute to the formulation of the final bill through organized public hearings, there will not be changes on the rotational leadership of the DESOPADEC, and he expected anyone who will occupy the position of Chairman of the Commission to put ethnic sentiments aside while carrying our his functions, as only the Commissioners will be selected on ethnic consideration to represent their specific host communities.
For now, there is a quiet and uneasy ceasefire as Deltans await the next moves from each front, but what is certain is that these are two issues that will definitely define the Okowa administration. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa also embarked on two major inspections in the first month of his administration. The first was to the Asaba drainage project at the axis of the terribly dilapidated Okpanam road which,according to Delta watchers, will remain an albatross and defining legacy for the Uduaghan administration, in the last Eight years. Governor Okowa also inspected the downgraded Asaba International Airport, which was seen by many as another less than satisfactorily executed legacy project, despite the huge and very controversial financial commitment which had been associated with the projected. His body language at the site and inspection of the two projects spoke volumes.
A number of visitations by the Labour Congress, the Clergy, the Judiciary and delegations from the academia, the multi-national constituency and security agency, amongst others, coupled with attendances at selected Thanks-giving services, also ensured that Governor Okowa not only touched base with some of the critical segments of the Delta society, but equally used the opportunity to make an early plea for partnership and accommodation from them as the administration progresses with its efforts to deliver the S.M.A.R.T programme and ensure Prosperity for all Deltans, as promised. At the national front, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, fresh from joining his fellow party leaders to achieve the highly successful political master-stroke of the PDP, in the National Assembly leadership elections, encountered President Muhammadu Buhari twice, during the debt crisis management meeting of all the Governors with the President and again when he attended his first ever National Economic Council meeting, as Governor of Delta State.
From all indications therefore, the safe conclusion is that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, has in the first Thirty days of his administration, acquitted himself well and operated with an amazing yet commendable authority and understanding of governance, complemented by an incredibly breathless speed of articulation and action, which has left many already breathless and wrong footed. And yet, for those who know him well, this administrative force is merely in line with the long established legend of the visionary, dynamic and gravitational synergy of a man, who it seems has hardly broken sweat and still looks so calm, humble, composed and unshakable in his resolve to succeed, with a refreshing mien of divine and scholarly simplicity, which will definitely speak more to pragmatic action and focused leadership rather than cosmetic appearances, as the administration marches on, after Thirty days and counting…
Written by David Diai.