elta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa today led Deltans to glorify God at an Inter-denominational thanksgiving service to mark the 26th anniversary of the creation of Delta State at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Unity Model Parish, Delta Province 3, Headquarters, Asaba.
Some Historical Excursion
October 1, 1960. Nigerians cheered as the country obtained its independence from the United Kingdom. The celebrations marked the beginning of a journey, which started on a promising note. But after over fifty years, it is right to say that the reverse is the case.
Today, we still run a mono economy dependent solely on the export of oil and gas. Even as an oil producing Country we are still dependent on imported refined petroleum products. Our infrastructures have almost all collapsed as most federal roads, which are major inter-State high-ways are in deplorable condition and the entire country. We continue to remain in darkness. The manufacturing sector is comatose, while poverty walks the streets.
Several political developments have also placed many hurdles on its path. The country has experienced a civil war, six successful coups d'etat and several unsuccessful ones among which were three inconclusive transitions to democracy. In spite of all these hiccups, most Nigerians agree that democracy remains the surest and best way forward.
The emergence of the military distorted any effort at consolidating the federal system. By implication, the incursion of the military into politics meant the introduction of a unitary system of government across the country. The notion of a federal military government is anomalous when the military system in itself is based on the unity of command and obedience to the last order. Thus, the military governors in the respective States were posted on military assignment; they obeyed the command of superior authority, which is the central government, irrespective of the cultural, economic and political peculiarities and realities in their respective States. To further consolidate on the unitary system, the military introduced several decrees, which were enacted to make the governance of the country unitary, without recourse to the special developmental needs of the constituent States that make up the so-called federation.
The land use and the various petroleum Acts that followed, have led to the increased erosion of the federal principle, while at the same time, derivation as a principle of revenue allocation was abandoned. These anomalies have one way or the other, contributed in creating underdevelopment, degradation and a most disturbing crisis in the Niger Delta area of the country.
Most of the developmental crisis that Nigeria has gone through since independence could therefore be traceable to the appearance of the military in politics and the unitarization of the federal system. Between 1960 and 1966, it is perhaps understandable that the nationalists who took over the reins of power were learning the ropes in the exercise of self-government. At those times, the developmental indices showed that the four regions were competing to develop along their own pathways with groundnut and cotton in the North, Cocoa in the West, Palm Oil in the East, rubber and timber in the Midwest.
With the emergence of the military and the unfortunate importance that oil assumed in the global market, federalism was totally abandoned. At the same time, the federal government assumed total control over oil, while the various States that emerged in 1967, abandoned their various specialized export commodities. Under the military, it was more fashionable to run automatic generators in State Houses rather than developing energy infrastructure for enhanced performance.
The logic behind where we stand today is that a military governor who is purely on military posting, did not need to bother going through the hassles of generating additional internal revenue. Instead, they lazily waited for the allocation of revenue from the centre. This remains a great burden that some governors under democratic dispensation might have unwittingly inherited and failed to transcend.
The second republic was too short to correct this anomaly. However, after seventeen consecutive years of democratic governance, governors must begin to forget the military carry-over of constantly waiting for revenue from the federal government. If the States were generating enough resources internally, they would have acquired more autonomy to act and avoided the rascality of the federal government between 1999 and 2007, which led to the impeachment of several governors.
Democracy: The Surest and Best Way Forward
Delta State at twenty-six is a useful measure for the comparison of developments under the military and a democratic dispensation. Between its creation in 1991 and 1999, the State was characterized by ethnic disaffection and later, inter-ethnic conflict that destroyed the Warri industrial hub. The needless bloodletting later spread into the creeks.
Delta State was carved out of the former Bendel State and it is on record that the communities in the present Delta State were shortchanged in terms of infrastructure development, especially roads. The few communities that had roads were mainly provided by Shell company and like all multinational corporations, such roads were to their business locations. In the same vein most of the health and education infrastructure were dilapidated.
For almost eight years, outside Olorogun Felix Ibru's brief stint as a civilian governor, the State was at a standstill as no meaningful developmental efforts took place. Beyond salaries, educational facilities, from primary to university level, were left to dilapidate, while no new school buildings were erected. In the same vein, old roads became deplorable and impassable, while no new ones were built; the State capital Asaba, where the office of the military governor is situated, received little or no attention. The story was the same across the local government areas.
Those who are familiar with Delta State of the military era will easily understand where the State started from on 29 May, 1999. The emergence of democratic governance under Chief James Onanefe Ibori in 1999, brought the State out of inter-ethnic war in the Warri business and industrial district including the creeks. It also saved the entire State from the brink of social, economic and political collapse.
The State in 1999, was still in the throes of the sectional disenchantment that followed its creation in 1991, but within two years of civil rule, Asaba assumed its position as the administrative headquarters of the State. The State capital has today, become cosmopolitan with Deltans from all over the State, taking up residence and owning properties in their State capital like Benin-City was to most Bendelites.
Without equivocation, it is necessary to put on record that Chief James Onanefe Ibori created one of the best road network ever in any State in Nigeria. most of the major bridge across the State, including the first main bridge into the creeks of the Niger Delta, the Bomadi bridge was constructed under his administration; he also started the process of the dualisation of major roads in the State capital and some local government headquarters. The administration carried out massive renovation and infrastructural expansion in the health and education sectors. Under him, various housing estates were built for junior and senior staff, quarters commissioners, permanent secretaries, House Assembly members and judicial officers among others. Several tertiary institutions were established. These and other major landmark projects were put in place between 1999 and 2008. It is unfortunate that the strides of Chief Ibori could not matched by the succeeding administration. But that is not to say that nothing was done.
Delta Under Senator Ifeanyi Okowa
The present administration under Senator Ifeanyi Okowa came into office on May 29, 2015 and although, Delta is an oil-producing state, its revenue has dwindled thus affecting the execution of major projects. Most of the period of this administration, the monthly allocation of between N20 billion and N25 billion from the Federation Account to the State dropped to between N3 billion and N5 billion. This has contributed to the inability of the government to deliver on promises.
Although, Delta is an oil-producing State, its revenue has dwindled thus affecting the execution of major projects. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa recently said the monthly allocation of between N20 billion and N25 billion from the Federation Account to the state had dropped to between N3 billion and N5 billion. He attributed the failure of the government to deliver on promises on the dwindling financial fortunes. In 2016 between January and June, the State recorded a mere N71.3 billion revenue as against the projected N268 billion as contained in the 2016 Appropriation Bill.
The State government is weighed down by huge debt burden. The State is owing about N773 billion in outstanding liabilities from previous administration, alongside monthly expenditure which far outstrip earning. The state is also confronted with rising wage bill of about N6 billion. The local government areas are owing their workers running into N8.4 billion. There was also the challenge of Pipeline vandalism and militancy in the creeks, which plagued the State. This posed a major security challenge to the peace of the State. Such pipelines include the ones operated by Chevron and NPDC, including the destruction of the export platform at Escravos, which became only functional two months ago.
Despite these challenges the Senator Okowa administration has made some modest achievements. The government reconstructed the State-owned technical colleges in Agbor, Ofagbe and Sapele. This was informed by its desire to promote technical and vocational education, which is at the core of its educational policy.
The government trained over 4,000 youths under the Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and made provisions for them to start their own businesses. And over 1,256 people were trained under the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP).
The Senator Okowa's administration also introduced a new programme - Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP), designed to cater for unemployed graduates. The programme runs on a pilot scale. So far, the government has created over 17,000 direct and indirect private sector jobs.
In terms of road infrastructure, the State government has completed the construction 55 roads projects covering over 148kilometres (including 113 kilometres of concrete-lined drains. Another 50 roads are under construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation. Some of the completed roads are Oteri township roads, Ughelli, Oleh/Emede/Olomoro road, Owhe-Ologbo/Abbi road, Idumu-Ughoh road, Agbor and Ejinyere/Orode road, Orerokpe. Others are Alisimie-Ozanogogo road, dualisation of Cable road, Asaba and Sapele road from Amukpe junction to AT&P.
The State government under Senator Okowa also focused on infrastructural development of hospitals and primary health care centres as well as the procurement of drugs and cutting edge medical equipment in major health care facilities in the three senatorial districts. To this end, the government is paying attention to the Teaching Hospital at Oghara while the Central Hospital, Asaba, is near completion. The contributory insurance scheme was introduced by the administration with the aim of expanding healthcare reach in the State.
To check the perennial flooding of Asaba, the State capital, the State government is Constructing storm drainage system in to in the city. Other key towns and cities across the State are also receiving attention.
As I have always noted, any administration in Delta State at any time must play the game of balancing the siting of development projects across the State. As such, it is not easy to be abreast with the overall development of the State at a glance. This is especially so, because the local government headquarters and the major towns in the State are all competing for development with the State capital and Warri. In the State, the network of roads in certain villages will be surprising for a non-resident, I was shocked at road networks in Otor Iyede in Isoko north, Obio in Oshimili north and Mosogar in Ethiope west, among others.
When people discuss most other States, they are only discussing developments in the State capitals. In Delta State, it would be impossible to concentrate development in Asaba or Warri. This, easily allows for pejorative judgment, especially by those who see Asaba and Warri as being the only development centers in the State.
It is my conviction that the fruits of the last two years will begin to show with the completion of the various developmental projects already started across the State. Just recently President Buhari acknowledged Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for his performance.
In all, I believe that there is hope for the State. There is hope in the individual resilience of our people, their courage, resourcefulness and strength. Let us therefore, keep hope alive about the blossoming of these opportunities.
Happy Anniversary to all Deltans!
Ojefia is a Public Affairs Analysts based in Asaba, Delta State