Leadership is in doing, not in talking. All great leaders act. No pontification. No story-telling. They brace up to confront situations knowing that challenges are not fixed by mere words or sophistry of language. Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, belongs to this class of leaders who lead by action, not by words. He leads above the noise.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian public space is full of noise. A cacophony of the absurd, the jesters and the downright whimsical. Delta is one of the top states with the highest noise pitches.
It’s the theatre of hate politics, ethnic jingoism and road-side gossip of unfounded tales. Delta is the nursery of empty-headed critics and cheap jobbers whose lot is to sling mud and deliberately plot mischief as a routine. It’s within this maddening ambience that Okowa thrives as governor. But the man who set a record of qualifying as a medical doctor at 22 from the University of Ibadan in 1981 has learnt to silence the garrulous mob with his trademark imprimatur of development.
Those who had been to Delta State or who lived in the state before May 29, 2015 when he was inaugurated as the democratically-elected governor of the state always testify to one truism: The transformational leadership of Okowa which has birthed several infrastructure from roads, healthcare, agriculture, industry, education among others in different parts of the state. Delta has a history of intermittent upheavals; if it’s not inter-communal crisis, it’s a group of young men fighting, justifiably, with the feudal lords from the centre to push for resource control or at the very least compensation for the despoliation of their environment and by extension their farmlands, fish ponds and their other sources of livelihood rendered unusable by oil majors prospecting for crude oil.
But Okowa has restored calm to the once febrile and volatile communities. And it’s down to his leadership style. He believes that two wrongs cannot make a right. He is a protagonist of equity, fairness and justice. He preaches peace and lives it. Former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, himself a man of peace, in referencing the politics and campaign messages of his then main challenger in the 2015 election, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, and his All Progressives Congress (APC) once said “you cannot give peace if all that is in you is bitterness.” Okowa embodies peace, calmness, temperance and fairness. And he acts peacefully with calm temperance to beget fairness and equity. It’s little wonder that under his tenure, the state has remained largely calm. The edgy frontiers in the creeks have relapsed to a calm mode. The implication is that Nigeria is able to meet its crude oil production capacity barring OPEC recommendations. Just for a moment, imagine that conflicts in the creeks hampered crude production in this season of low oil prices. Imagine the creeks in feisty conflagration such that Nigeria is not able to meet her OPEC production quota. The picture would have been scarier. It would mean even poorer dollar receipts for the nation. It would mean more oil majors invoking force majeure. And then, the nation loses.
It is no longer news that the pandemic has dealt a deadly blow to global economy. Nigeria and other nations that depend chiefly on crude oil export for revenue suffered the most. This meant low revenue allocations to states far less than they used to receive from the Federation Account. And that was the perfect alibi trot out by some governors to justify their non-performance. But in the midst of this low revenue, a few governors have overcome the inertia of non-performance. They did not only fulfil their recurrent obligations, they also were not held back in executing significant quantum of capital projects. Okowa is a stand-out member of this class of performing governors. The reason for his outlier performance is down to fiscal prudence and strategic prioritisation of projects.
Thus, with a lean purse compared to pre-2015 era, he has distinguished himself as a miracle worker, road master, promise-keeper (Ekwueme) among other monikers. Coming into office on the wave of a SMART agenda, Okowa’s transformational leadership has birthed a new Delta in road infrastructure, healthcare, sports development, education, agriculture and human capital development through skills acquisition, improved formal and technical education.
Delta, the other half of the old Bendel State (Mid-Western Region) famed for sporting excellence and peerless academic distinction, at a time lost its lustre. But Okowa is restoring the old order, resetting the state to its default mode as the birthplace of sports legends, tech whizzes, successful farmers, thriving cottage industries and academic prodigies. Reviving the Stephen Keshi stadium in Asaba, a historical monument that has unjustly suffered decades-long neglect, was a major step in attracting major international sporting engagements to the state. The Senior African Athletics Championships which held in Asaba in 2018 during which athletes from about 50 African countries converged on Asaba spoke volume of the restoration of the state’s sporting glory. The reality that Delta could boldly throw its door open for the national team, the Super Eagles, to hold their matches in Asaba is evidential of the march of Delta to its old glory of being the theatre of sporting activities in the country. The outstanding performance of the state in recent National Sports Festivals attests to this. Okowa’s passion for sports and his zeal for sports development have revived sporting competitiveness in the state exemplified in the ascendancy of inter-school sports championships among other grassroots competitions.
It’s not for nothing that Okowa is called the Road Master. Even his most acerbic critics agree that he has been bullish with road construction and opening up the state and inter-linking remote communities to boost agriculture, investment and trade. No governor in the history of the state has constructed more bridges and roads than Okowa including roads within the littoral communities in Ijaw heartland such that for once, persons from these riverine communities can drive their vehicles to their villages, something never before thought was possible.
In his six years in office, it’s fair to say that Okowa has out-performed expectation, lived up to his campaign promises, and brought development closer to all Deltans in line with his slogan – Prosperity for all Deltans. All this in a period of economic strangulation occasioned by dipping oil prices and a treacherous pandemic.
Yet, in spite of his remarkable accomplishments, Okowa has remained coy and quiet, preferring his works to speak for him rather than trumpeting his achievements. This is despite the madcap noise and vainglorious criticisms laced with venom and marinated with mischief being thrown at him by the opposition and their cheap recruits. This is the stuff of good leaders. They stay demurred even in the midst of banal provocation typified by noise and boastful clatter. It’s called leadership above the noise. Okowa is a master in this turf.
Udema writes from Warri, Delta State.