A few months ago, in the course of a business meeting in China involving the Delta State Government and private sector partners, a matter involving some key statistics came up. While the participants were still grappling with the numbers, the State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who led the delegation, had already finished with the mental calculations. He shared the results with the other participants and added some personal recommendations based on the numbers. “I was quite surprised.” said one of the participants at the event, a UK-trained oil and gas expert. “He was so fast, ahead of the rest of us.” Then he added: “But I understood when I did some research on him. He is quite brilliant. You know, he became a doctor at 22.”
Yes, Governor Okowa is not lacking in brain power or academic accomplishments. His records confirm this.
As many sources have confirmed recently, he had the second-best result in the Higher School Certificate Examination in the then Bendel State in 1976, then obtained an MBBS in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Ibadan, graduating in 1981 at the age of 22. Thereafter he embarked on a public career that has spanned both statewide positions and the Senate.
It is therefore no surprise that as governor, this brainy but very humble politician has notched up significant achievements which have inspired his admirers to regale him with some traditional titles and nicknames as a tribute to the landmark feats of his administration.
One of such nicknames is: “Road Master,” a reference to the numerous completed and ongoing road projects across the state under his watch. Road construction has been a major component of Okowa’s agenda because the feedback from communities across the state after his election in 2015 was loud and clear: “We want roads!” The records show that Okowa, who also goes by the traditional title of “Ekwueme”, (the one who speaks and keeps his promises) has taken the mandate very seriously.
The Okowa administration has significantly advanced urban-rural integration and transformed urban centres in Delta State with 799 civil infrastructure projects spanning 1,577.8 kilometres of roads and 908.8 kilometres of drainage channels. This is in addition to 21 bridges constructed in different parts of the state. These projects have boosted trade and commerce and enhanced the ease-of-doing-business environment across the state, and increased the capacity of the private and public sectors to operate and expand economic opportunities.
Another landmark Okowa initiative is the reinvigorated primary health care system and the establishment of a contributory health insurance scheme with over 900,000 registered clients which has attracted positive attention across the country. This is a significant accomplishment because it aligns with the universal health coverage goal of the World Health Organization, for all people to have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. Depending on the specific details and capacity of enrollees, the Delta scheme includes the full range of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care. The progress made by Delta State is impressive considering that the National Health Insurance Scheme at the federal level still battles many challenges.
Youths are rightly a central part of Okowa’s vision and programmes. Apart from being the inheritors of tomorrow, they are also critical to achieving sustainable peace in a restive Niger Delta state like Delta. To keep them meaningly engaged, the government has established several skill acquisition projects.
They include the ICT-Youth Empowerment Programme (ICT-YEP) and the Rural Youth Skill Acquisition Programme (RYSA). ICT-YEP is aimed at providing necessary ICT skills training to enable self-employment for start-ups that will be based in Delta State. At the end of the training programme, participants are provided with starter packs. RYSA is designed to take skill acquisition programmes to the rural youth population with the objectives of creating income-earning opportunities, stemming youth restiveness, discouraging rural-urban drift, and growing the local economy.
Another initiative, the Tertiary Institution Entrepreneur Programme (TEP) is designed to produce work-ready and self-employed graduates, to mitigate graduate unemployment significantly. Through these and other job and wealth creation programmes for youths, the Okowa administration has created over 100,000 direct jobs and over 1,000,000 indirect jobs.
To overcome the funding challenges that shredded state, federal and state government budgets in the wake of the global oil price crash of mid-2014, Okowa instituted policies to mitigate shortfalls, manage available resources better, and boost revenues. These included a host of tough measures intended to eliminate the deficit and restore the health of public finances. Cost-cutting measures to plug wastages/leakages, drive fiscal discipline, induce prudent management, compel strict adherence to due process, and reduce operating expenditure were introduced and implemented. Revenue limits were respected and due diligence prioritised.
On this solid foundation, the Road Master has forged many paths to improving good governance and public welfare in Delta State.
. Ukah is a public affairs analyst.