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How ‘Finishing Strong’ Agenda Qualifies Okowa For VP Slot, Higher National Assignment
Published Jan 17, 2023 IN Column, STRONGER DELTA,
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IF leadership exists for the general good and is there­fore, only for the tested and trusted; for those who have discharged their incumbent assignment with the greatest sense of responsibility and dispatch, then the country has the fine opportunity to confidently hand a greater responsibility to Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, Delta State Governor, in consonance with any desired political aspiration, because what is good for Delta State is also good for the entire country, being that Governor Okowa has, in his words: “been able to reach out to the people”, in all configuration of the state’s population and in all spheres of human development; without doubt, as he posited: by finishing strong, Gover­nor Okowa is laying the foundation that people can build upon in the future. Hence, truly he is a leader delivering on the present, but with eyes on an ever sustainable development that permeates the future.

It can therefore, be summed thus: “What greater con­tribution to an enduring and sustainable Delta State, can a leader fathom, out of absolute love for Deltans, than a foundation upon which a Delta State super structure, of our collective dreams, would stand, many years to come. That is why when Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr.) If­eanyi Arthur Okowa, said that he wants to Finish Strong, he followed it up with the significant deployment of critical physical, social and general development across every sector and strata of the state’s composition, such that he has created a Delta State better than he met it.

On May 29, 2015, he was first elected and on May 29, 2019, he renewed that Social Contract, which is essen­tially about his S.M.A.R.T Agenda. Hence, has vigorously sustained what has amounted to practicable, verifiable and enormous dividends of democracy, which today, has evolved in a Stronger Delta State. In moving swiftly forward towards unparalleled general development of his dear Delta State, Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, as a development sprinter, with his eyes on posterity and a fair place in history, has journeyed on gallantly, in the winning race of Prosperity for All Deltans, being his mantra of purposefulness and focus in leadership.

Governor Okowa’s administration has adopted a winning strategy for Wealth and Prosperity creation in Delta State, so much so, that under his able leadership and direction, Delta State has been steered system­atically, but surely into development reckoning in the country, gaining traction via much deployed compara­tive advantage, courtesy of the state’s economic policies and programmes, visibly endorsed by international stakeholders: The World Bank has not hidden the fact that Delta State presents a key hope for the country to deliver on the Millennium Development Goals (SDGs).

Governor Okowa is fast taking the state to a very visible and significant arena, where free trade is real and con­sumated through his own making- the greowing doing business environment across Delta State. As a backdrop, nothing captures the story of growing economic profile of Delta State better than Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s job and wealth creation programmes: it is a sub set that flows seamlessly with other economic indices faithfully being executed by the Okowa administration, so as to turn Delta State into a significant continental prosper­ity capital, with its multiplier effect on the sub national economy, as envisaged by the Stronger Delta Agenda. At the maiden Products’ Exhibition and Business Fair for benefi­ciaries of the scheme in December 2017, a Senior Specialist at the World Bank, Dr. Tunde Adeko­la affirmed that, “Delta State is the only state that has demonstrated its commitment to skills’ development in practical terms. The World Bank will continue to support the Delta State Govern­ment in the areas of skills and technical development, as well as work with the Job and Wealth Creation Office to strengthen the labour market observatory system.” Expectedly, it would make Governor Okowa’s dream of re-creating the middle class a reality.”

This glowing endorsement gives both essence and credence to recent statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This year, the NBS released two major sta­tistical scenarios, first on Poverty-Population ratio among states in Nigeria and the second on unemployment rate in the country. Both statistical pictures took cognisance of both the national average and prevailing averages across the 36 states. On both instances, Delta State recorded appreciable improvement and growth, both in terms of number of people rescued from poverty and those saved from the unemployment market. Delta State did not only surpass and better the national average on both indices of development, it climbed up the rung in the rank of states, especially in the poverty to population ratio. It was nec­essary to state the above, given that no economy, starting from the Asian Tigers to South America’s econom­ic renaissance, had wit­nessed their known economic turnaround without showing positive indication in their human development and living standard index. A study of the charts between 2015 and 2020 showed that Delta achieved the fastest transformation of taking more of its resi­dents out of poverty. The National Poverty to Popu­lation Average for 2020 was tolerable, which translated to more Del­tans climbing far above the scandalous standard of living less than one dollar a day, that most of Nigeria’s 200 million people are unfortunately and seemingly irredeem­ably enmeshed in through the ill devices of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government in the country.

But Delta State Gover­nor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa rolled out ambitious agricultural and business develop­ment programmes, with emphasis on grains’ cultivation and massive production of goods and services. The result of this sustained push is the quantum leap in availability of assorted commodities for the export market. This is the sense in which the case of the Job and Wealth Cre­ation Scheme in Delta State deserves a closer study. It’s an advanced version of the Asian Tigers’ initiative, in that it focuses on a wider berth in the agriculture value chain. Beyond agriculture and the youth empowerment, initiatives by Governor Okowa include a new wave of skills’ acquisition, training in entrepreneurship and ICT empowerment. This might well explain why Delta raced up the ladder in the National Poverty-Population Chart and its trade readiness.

Analysts ascribed the leap from poverty to Prosperity, to the point of leaping towards global reckoning, to the deliberate business climate creation and engagement policy of the Okowa administration. Governor Okowa reeled out several initiatives to actualise his ‘Prosperity For All Deltans’ mantra, which has over the years, as­sumed a momentum far beyond mere sloganeering. To achieve the feat, Governor Okowa created the Office of the Chief Job and Wealth Creation Officer (the first of its kind in the history of Delta State), as a Special Purpose Vehicle to drive the job and wealth creation component of his vision of Prosperity for All Deltans. The office initi­ated three main programmes namely: Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP), all aimed at diversifying the economy of the state and empowering the beneficiaries to become makers of the cake, rather than sharers of same. The programme has become a huge success to the acclamation of Deltans. The barom­eter for measuring the success of the programme is in the NBS 2020 statistics on poverty-population among the 36 states, plus the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

The verdict: More Deltans have exited the poverty-population bracket under Governor Okowa in barely was quite demanding and exacting, and there were times we were tempted to throw up our hands in despair, and even questioned the wisdom for embarking on a project of this magnitude.

“The turbulence that has plagued the economy since 2017 was worsened with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing major financial disruptions during the construction process. However, we persevered and weathered the storm, fully persuaded of the huge benefits accruable to the state once the structure was completed,” he said. Okowa added that with the completion of the complex, the state would save hundreds of millions of naira spent annually in renting offices while the coordination and synergy among MDAs would be enhanced, lead­ing to higher morale, better time management, efficiency and greater productivity.

“This sprawling office complex occupies a total floor space of 45, 000 square metres and de­signed around five clusters with multiple floors, each cluster around a courtyard. This concept allows plenty of natural light and ventilation into the offices. All the 27 ministries and their commissioners and permanent secretaries will be housed here, with the entire secretariat in­terconnected through a system of voice and data networks. There are nine seminar/conference rooms, a training room, clinic, creche, banking hall and three restaurants in the building, while the car park has the capacity to accommodate up to 1,000 cars. Electricity supply to the sec­retariat as with other government buildings is powered by the 8.5 Megawatts Asaba Indepen­dent Power Plant. As already announced by my humble self, this building is named ‘Professor Chike Edozien Secretariat’. Perhaps unknown to many, Professor Edozien, the Asagba of Asaba, is a notable scholar in the field of medicine.

“It is in recognition of his accomplishments in the medical profession and his disposition to peace-building and peaceful coexistence among the different ethnic nationalities of the state that we decided to name this secretariat in his honour,” he said

He commended the major contractor, North China Construction Nigeria Limited, the con­sultant architects and project managers, the supervising ministry, sub-contractors, suppliers and site workers for their focus and diligence while the project lasted. “This project tasked their intellect and resourcefulness, and they certainly impressed with their discipline, cre­ativity and never-say-die attitude. “It is my earnest expectation that ministry staff will be motivated to put in their best while striving to keep this facility in excellent condition always. The narrative of poor maintenance culture that has bedeviled the civil service must give way to a sense-of-ownership, complemented by decency and responsibility. This is imperative for the integrity of the civil service establishment and the progress of the state and I expect the chief accounting officers of the various ministries to institute strict measures to encourage, enhance and enforce the culture of maintenance,” Okowa stated.

Welcoming guests earlier, Commissioner for Special Projects, Chief Henry Sakpra, said the project was conceptualised in 2016 by the Okowa-led administration to provide condu­cive working environment for the state’s public service. He said actual work commenced in No­vember, 2017 following completion of contract documentation by the state government and the contracting firm. The ceremony was witnessed by the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, Deputy Governor of Delta, Mr Kingsley Otuaro, his Edo counterpart, Comrade Phillip Shaibu, Minority Leader of House of Represen­tatives, Chief Ndudi Elumelu and Senator James Manager.

In the past, Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, on Workers’ Day, said his administration was fully aware of the challenges of workers, assuring workers that his administration would continually meet its obligation to workers in the state, despite the harsh economic realities of Nigeria. “As we celebrate this year’s Worker’s Day, let me reassure you that my government is fully aware of the challenges faced by workers. We are continuing on the path of development and progress. Despite the tight financial environ­ment, we will continually meet our obligations to the workers in Delta State as and at when due. All we expect from you in return is greater dedi­cation, patience with us and remaining loyal to the government of the day. I urge you to remain resilient, hopeful and focused as we accelerate our determination and resolve to build the Delta State of our collective dream. Let me remind our workers that they have a huge role to play in nur­turing, as well as sustenance of our dreams and aspirations as Deltans. You are the engine room of administrative procedures and bureaucracy. It behooves you to render services in line with the vision of a Stronger Delta. An efficient, effec­tive, proactive and responsive civil service is an integral component of our dreams for a Stronger Delta. Be rest assured that my government will continue to protect and be the guarantor to the constitutionally enshrined rights of all workers across the state’’. Earlier, the State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Goodluck Ofobruku, called on governments at all levels to be more proactive on the issues of insecurity currently plaguing the country, just as they made cases as it concerned their affiliate unions. But the NLC boss commended Gover­nor Okowa for the industrial harmony, among other developmental strides, that has prevailed since his assumption of office in 2015. He urged workers to partner government in ensuring the progress of the state through profitable synergy. Also in his message, the State Chairman of the NLC, Goodluck Ofobruku, urged workers to continue to support the present administration, describing Okowa as a worker-friendly Governor. Ofobruku thanked the Okowa administration for the development of state infrastructure across the three Senatorial districts, while urging him to sustain the tempo. The labour leader noted that with the Ultra-Modern Central Secretariat for civil servants, workers’ output has been greatly enhanced.

Recall also that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, had long approved the full implementation of the new minimum wage as earlier approved by the Federal Government in 2019. This came after a series of meetings between the Delta State Government and the Labour unions on the new national minimum wage for workers in the state.

 The state government also approved the arrears of two months with effect from November 1, 2019. With the development, Delta State has emerged the sixth state to implement the new minimum wage in the country and the first in the South South and South East regions. The state government had since commenced payment, as well as settled the arrears of the new minimum wage along with that year’s January and February salaries. Indeed, the state government’s action was in line with the directive of the National Income and Wages Commission. It has always been willing to pay the new Minimum Wage, just as it was assured that Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa would continue to prioritise the welfare of workers, but that the state workforce should at all times, reciprocate the state government’s gesture through hard work. In the past, both the government and labour teams, had been com­mended for their resilience in making the outcome of any negotiations fruitful. On his part, the Labour Team Leader and state NLC Chairman, Comrade Goodluck Ofobruku and the State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Martins Bolum, commended the state government for its trans­parency and sensitivity during the negotiation exercise. Whither Okowa’s ‘Prosperity for All Deltans?’ The administration of Governor If­eanyi Okowa, inaugurated on May 29, 2015, has brought joy to all categories of workers- the Gov­ernor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa directed the Job Creation Office of the state on ways to calm the suffering of the Delta Steel Company (DSC) workers. No fewer than 26 of the unpaid work­ers had reportedly died of hunger. Okowa said he would do everything possible to help the work­ers, expressing regret over the development. Okowa said he was aware of the situation facing the workers and promised to assist them. He said, “We need to create a programme through the Job Creation Bureau to render assistance to some of the families. We don’t have the capacity to run the company as a state and we are aware that government is divesting interests in running business organisations.”

Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa, rightly said that workers are valuable assets in any policy, programme and project implementation. Governor Okowa amidst applause from cheering workers, reeled out his administration’s achievements in meeting with his electoral promises to workers. According to the Governor, “this administration is constantly aware of the sacrifices of workers and their contributions to the development of our dear State and country; our workers remain unarguably very important assets in any policy, programme and project implementation, that is why the present administration has sought and will continue to seek the hands of labour, so that together, we can attain the enviable heights of progress in our beloved State.” I sincerely re­quest your (organised labour) cooperation and understanding as partners in progress; we are always conscious of ensuring harmony to bring out the best in the workforce and I assure you that working together, this administration will continue to protect workers’ rights and shall pro­mote incentives for greater productivity leading to greater prosperity”, the Governor said.

He continued, “my dear workers, you are no doubt aware that the state government has ap­proved owner-occupier for the workers residing in the junior staff estate; at the same time, the buildings on the new housing estate on Ibusa road are to be completed and handed over to workers; the present administration has con­tinued to keep our promises to our workers; we are paying salaries promptly and when the next Paris Club money is received, we shall assist the local government councils that are indebted to their workers to pay off all that they owe.” The state government has since redeemed the promises. “It is important that we make clear distinction between state government and lo­cal government, what we do as a state must be seen as assistant because, it is not the duty of the state government to pay salaries of local government councils,” Governor Okowa clarified. He also clarified that his administration spends about N1 billion monthly for the payment of pen­sions, noting that the backlog of pension arrears was much but, his administration was making arrangements to clear the backlog. Governor Okowa also, thanked civil servants for their coop­eration in ensuring that the clock – in, clock – out mechanism introduced in the state was effec­tive, stating, “with the clock-in arrangement, we will ensure that only those who work receives salaries”, although the measure was suspended due to the COVID-19.

“I am committed to the promotion of worker’s welfare, I have never at any point, suspended promotion of civil servants, but I urge all civil servants to be committed to their duties and ensure effective service delivery,” the Governor stated. Labour said: “our Governor, while we assure you of the workers continuous support to your administration, the organised labour in the state appreciates the giant strides your administration has made in the past three years through your SMART agenda.” Okowa, who thanked organised labour for their support and cooperation for the success of his administra­tion, described the partnership with labour as cordial, respectful and beneficial to Deltans and the state. “I must thank the unions, all our workers for the support and understanding we received; with the prayers and the support of the workforce, Deltans and leaders across the state we were able to consolidate on the prom­ises that we made as a government,” he said.

The governor equally directed that the over 530 staff of Delta State civil service who falsified their retirement age or refused to appear before the Verification Committee On Age Discrepancy And Date Of Birth and Employment of Public Officers in Delta State should be expunged from the payroll immediately.

Receiving the Final Report from the Commit­tee which had Chief Nkem Okwuofu as Chair­man, on Monday August 07, 2017 in Asaba, Gov­ernor Okowa decried falsification of documents and laxity in the part of those who aid and abet such actions in the public service. He bemoaned the connivance of staff in the falsification and handling of records especially those that are dead and retired, directing the office of the Head of Service to take disciplinary action against the Heads and Directors of affected Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

“It is quite unfortunate that at this point in time we are still dealing with this situation in our public service where people can still volun­tarily work with other people to change their date of birth and date of appointment and it is something that all of us must frown at; I frown at such and I believe that the public service and its management must continuously frown at such an act because it is not possible for any staff to unilaterally change his or her date of birth or appointment, so obviously there is a collusion in the entire system and it worries me that at this point in time this is still ongoing”, he said,

“Head of Service, with effect from today, the 402 absentees have to be disengaged from the payroll completely and the people that are due to retire, must be expunged from the payroll between today and tomorrow, we cannot con­tinue to tolerate this, it is very unfortunate that we continue to see people who are dead and are still receiving salaries, it is very unsettling and I do not know what the reporting system is; when someone is dead he/she is dead and the name must be removed immediately”, Senator Okowa said

“I think that there is a lot of laxity in the entire system and we must find a way to improve on

 the workability of the system and people must be held liable and disciplined if they do not do their duties; the permanent secretaries, the directors are there, so henceforth any place we find such laxity the people at the head in­cluding the permanent secretary or the direc­tor must be disciplined themselves otherwise such acts will continue and it should not be because it is very embarrassing to see people that have died over three years ago and we are still paying them”, he added.

The governor commended the Committee for the exercise and assured them that gov­ernment would implement their recommen­dations for the betterment of the civil service.

Earlier, while presenting the report, Chief Okwuofu disclosed that a total of 4,742 persons were screened, out of which 1,695 were cleared, 137 were asked to proceed on retirement, 810 had their dates of birth and employment corrected and 2,085 verified and affirmed, while 402 were absent. The correction of dates of birth of some staff in the payroll who ought to have retired but, for the falsification of records and others whose dates of birth were altered though not within retirement age, has resulted in total financial gains of N12,319,762,921.20 for the state government.

Furthermore, On Okowa’s welfarist leader­ship and general development of the state, it is pertinent to note that despite the economic challenges that greeted his assumption of of­fice, Governor Okowa displayed remarkable resourcefulness, resilience and strong mana­gerial acumen, as reflected in the spread and balance of infrastructural projects across the three Senatorial districts of the state, employ­ment generation and notable transformation in the education sector”. They continued, “In less than four years, his administration em­barked upon 357 road projects, comprising 1, 056. 15 kms of roads and 352.78 kms of drains; also, his administration has trained huge numbers of young graduates in choice enterprises, while training and empowering Deltans to own their own businesses.

In circumspect, keen observers of the un­precedented development in Delta State, have bestowed added energies to the devel­opmental strides of the performing Okowa Administration, thus bidding it greater speed in the full realisation of the promised Prosperity for All Deltans; their commenda­tions were not meant to serve as idle praise singing or to ruffle the feathers of arm chair critics, who even in the comfort of their arm chairs, cannot deny the glaring fact that Delta State, under the able leadership of Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, have never had it so good, just as he continues to soar upon the building blocks of the past years of the state’s existence and to chart unprecedented inroads of democratic dividends- a narrative underscored by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governance in Delta State.

As a performing government, it does not pander to the interests of praise singers and has no need to curry the favour of award giv­ers; but accepts varied acknowledgements because they are the result of the independent verification of a burgeoning era of Prosperity through a people-centred governance, with manifest testimonies of a new dawn across multiple sectors of the state’s economy. Of note is the popular recognition by the Ni­gerian Institute of Civil Engineers (NICE), coinciding with his “Finishing Strong Agenda”, thus it is the reflection of a leader, who has never wavered in the Godspeed to realise the Delta State of the collective aspiration of all Deltans, while recognising that the greatest recognition would be a good place in history, as he marches on, focused and undistracted, in enthroning a Stronger Delta, now and for posterity.

 Analysts ascribed the leap from poverty to pros­perity, to the point of leaping towards global reck­oning, to the deliberate business climate creation and engagement policy of the Okowa administra­tion. Governor Okowa reeled out several initiatives to actualise his ‘Prosperity For All Deltans’ mantra, which has over the years assumed a momentum far beyond mere sloganeering. To achieve the feat, Governor Okowa created the Office of the Chief Job and Wealth Creation Officer (the first of its kind in Delta State), as a Special Purpose Vehicle to drive the job and wealth creation component of his vision of Prosperity for All Deltans. The office initiated three main programmes namely: Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and Production and Processing Sup­port Programme (PPSP), all aimed at diver­sifying the economy of the state and empowering the beneficiaries to become makers of the cake, rather than sharers of same. The programme has become a huge success to the accla­mation of Deltans. The ba­rometer for measuring the success of the programme is in the NBS 2020 statis­tics on poverty-population among the 36 states plus the Federal Capital Terri­tory, FCT. The verdict: More Deltans have exited the bracket in Okowa’s barely five years as governor.

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