Analysts have excited considerable interest as governors wind down for new administrations nationwide. Outgoing Delta State governor Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa is in the first rank of those attracting attention. He has received so much positive and negative attention.
I noticed Temidayo Akinboyo’s feature, “Ifeanyi Okowa: Eight years of few ups and many downs”, in the Premium Times of 22 May 2023 as I was in Asaba the previous weekend. I read it with keen interest but saw that it is an example of the shortcomings of critics of Okowa who work to the answer but end up providing validation of the outgoing governor contrary to their thesis.
Before reading his essay, I engaged in a similar debate on a robust platform where some critics sought to dress Okowa in glittering generalities of negativism. My column, The Public Sphere in EMetro.com, pays close attention to the South-East and South-South, so I am familiar with the issues around Delta State.
Akinboyo regurgitates the talking points of the sundry opposition in Delta State but cloths it in the garb of economic analysis. For instance, in a remarkable feat of gracelessness, the author cavils that Okowa “snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the PDP” in the 2023 elections. The fact says otherwise. The facts indicate that outgoing governor Okowa’s performance won the confidence of Deltans, who delivered his successor in the Rt Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori and retained an overwhelming majority in the state House of Assembly. How does a man “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat” by winning 21 out of 25 local government areas? How does that happen except in jaundiced analysis?
Moving from “it is hard to assess his tenure holistically…,” Akinboyo nevertheless goes on to do this “hard’ task and fails. Woefully. His detailing of his itemised areas shows Okowa in good standing, contrary to his summation. The areas are “internally generated revenue, fiscal sustainability, poverty rate, unemployment rate, ease of doing business and budgetary allocations.” There is also the allegation that Okowa allegedly “failed to use the resources (of Delta State) for the infrastructural and human capital development” of the state. We must thank Akinboyo for initiating this examination of the Okowa record.
Infrastructural and human capital development are some of the many strong points of Okowa as governor. Okowa transformed the infrastructural and human capital foundation of Delta State. He transformed Asaba into the state’s de jure and de facto capital. For many years post-creation, Asaba was indistinct, neither a state capital nor a regional city. Asaba boasts today of many projects, including one of the best state secretariats in Nigeria, a network of roads that has seen neighbouring Okpanam merge into Asaba, the upgrade of the Asaba airport, and the completion of the Stephen Keshi Stadium after 18 years on the drawing board. Today, the massive infrastructural renewal that has turned Asaba around lured investors and homeowners and made it one of Nigeria’s most dynamic property markets—Asaba throbs with life from the work of Governor Okowa.
Okowa’s Storm Water Drainage project removed Asaba from the ignominy of the Flood Capital of the South-South. A similar stormwater drainage project in Warri, the commercial capital, is at 85 per cent completion as the governor leaves. It will change Warri.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa delivered “a transforming and prospering economy…,” according to NextMoney and MONEY magazines. I read the journals ahead of my trip and gladly shared some of the data they highlighted. Landmark projects and significant milestones announce the Okowa years. Like Akinboyo, we should bring out some economic indicators.
- Delta State has an estimated GDP of US$15 billion as of 2022, making it the third-largest state economy in Nigeria. Estimated growth has been 60% since 2015.
- Delta State has an estimated per capita income of US$2701, higher than Nigeria’s national figure of US$2085 by World Bank estimates.
- Delta State is number one in crude oil production. It is a function of peace, security, and good governance in the state. Okowa engaged the restiveness in the creeks and stopped it. Before Okowa, oil production fell severely, and insecurity forced oil firms out of the state.
- According to the National Bureau of Statistics figures, Delta State ranked the second lowest in poverty in Nigeria in 2020, a significant leap from the 12th-lowest poverty rate in 2010. The 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster/National Immunization Coverage Survey, also by the NBS, showed that only 4.2% of households fall within the poorest quintile (20%).
- The National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria, in its 2017 Report, declared Delta State the first in human capital development due mainly to Okowa’s entrepreneurship development programmes which boosted the social services sector.
- Asaba Airport has moved up from the 15th position to the sixth in passenger traffic. Okowa made the necessary investment to upgrade the airport after it was downgraded by the Federal Airports Authority just before he assumed office in May 2015. It is now a concession run by Asaba Airport Limited. The Federal Government has followed the concession route with the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) in Kano. I recall engaging some naysayers in my column regarding the airport concession then.
- Under Okowa, Delta State was the first to introduce the mandatory health insurance scheme by establishing the Delta State Contributory Health Commission in 2016. Delta State currently holds the number one position in comparative health coverage across Nigerian states. It is the first state in Nigeria to cover over 20% of its population with health insurance services with over 1.3 million enrollees. It is on a good trajectory towards achieving the Universal Health Coverage mandate of the United Nations.
- The Delta State Contributory Health Commission is Nigeria’s first and only Health Insurance Agency, listed by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) as compliant with the National Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) requirement for National Data storage and management.
- Delta State has an increasingly diversified economy whereby the non-oil sector constitutes 52.5% of 2020 GDP compared to 41.9% in 2013.
- Delta State continued to better its internally generated revenue by increasing it cumulatively by 82.04% from 2016 to 2021.
- Delta State under Okowa created 14,075 new youth entrepreneurs through skills training, retraining, reorientation, start-up and working capital support. It also created 223,905 jobs through multifaceted programmes and initiatives. It facilitated 1,325,750 indirect jobs from the multiplier effects of investments in public infrastructure works, public-private partnerships, community-level development projects and public-private collaborative youth empowerment grants.
- Delta State has an unemployment rate of 31 per cent from the latest reckoning of the National Bureau of Statistics. It is less than the national average of 37.2 per cent.
Okowa’s many infrastructure projects provide a platform for Deltans to activate – and maximise – their potential. With about 2,000 kilometres of roads and over 1,400 kilometres of drainage channels constructed by his administration, Delta State boasts a network of roads and bridges that have furthered rural-urban integration and enhanced trade and commerce. The many roads and physical infrastructure in the riverine areas, such as the 20.29 kilometres Obotobo – I Obotobo – II –Sokebolou-Yokri Road in Burutu Local Government, Okenrekoko township roads, and Ogulagha township roads are few of them. It would be interesting to visit the market on the sea that Okowa built, the Ogheye Floating Market in Warri North LGA.