By Charles Aniagwu
“Greatness lies not in ruling a people, it lies in being the cause of happiness in their lives.” ― Abhijit Naskar
As Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa celebrates his Diamond jubilee, today (July 8, 2019), all attention is focused on a man who has given his all to create peace, happiness and progress for the people of Delta State and Nigerians in general. Gradually, the Governor is stepping into the elders club. As he ages, it is never a dull moment for a man who has spent the greater part of his life to rendering selfless service to humanity. Describing Okowa as a child of circumstances with a great destiny is like stating the obvious. It is often said that some were born great, while others achieved greatness. For Okowa, it is a combination of being born great and working hard to achieve greatness.
To Okowa, the ideal celebration would not be to organize an elaborate feast, to bring friends and well-wishers together for a mother of all feasts. Doing so is not in his character. If there would be a get-together at all it would be with his immediate family as he has done in the last four years as the governor. Therefore, It’s only appropriate to seize the occasion of his birthday to examine his relentless work schedule that has benefited the state and provided prosperity for all Deltans in the last four years.
At 60, Dr. Okowa has garnered in that relatively old age, a record of achievements that is the envy of his peers. Born on July 8, 1959, to his Owa-Alero and Abavo parents in Ika North East and Ika South Local Government Areas of Delta State Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State. His aged father Pa Arthur Okowa who was recently installed as the Okpara-Uku of Owa-Alero and his beloved mother Mrs Victoria Okowa of blessed memory wouldn’t have imagined the great heights their then little child was destined for. But as Lydia Sweatt puts it, “Successful people don’t become that way overnight, it is the result of hard work and hustle over time”.
Dr. Okowa worked his way to success when he enrolled into Iroro Primary School, Owa-Alero, and later attended Edo College Benin between (1970-1976) and then went on to the prestigious University of Ibadan where he studied Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) degree where he graduated in 1981 at a record age of 22 years. After his National Youth Service Corps, Dr. Okowa started his working career with the Bendel State Hospitals Management Board as a Medical Officer and later entered private practice as Director, Victory Medical Centre, Igbanke in 1986.
Dr. Okowa began his political career as Secretary to the Ika Local Government and then pioneer Chairman of Ika North-East Local Government Council (1991–1993). He was Delta North Coordinator of the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM). He joined the PDP in 1998 and assisted in Governor James Ibori’s campaign in 1998/1999. He served as a Commissioner in the Delta State government for Agriculture and Natural Resources (July 1999 – April 2001), Water Resources Development (April 2001 – May 2003) and Health (September 2003 – October 2006).
Okowa resigned to contest in the 2007 Delta State PDP governorship primaries but did not win the governorship primaries. In June 2007, he was appointed Secretary to the Delta State Government. Against all odds, he was elected Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District in 2011. As a senator in the seventh National Assembly, he was ranked among the best senators for sponsoring 10 bills, including the National Health Bill, a feat many acknowledged as ingenious, legendary and laudable despite his short stint in the red chamber.
In April 2015, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa was elected Governor of Delta State and was inaugurated on May 29, 2019. His steady progress did not just start today, as those who know would not easily forget how he rode on the back of humility, through his professional and political career, to his present status as governor of Delta State.
As Governor, he met serious challenges but as Lydia Sweatt puts it again, “Sometimes we are tested not to show our weaknesses, but to discover our strengths”, Governor Okowa showed his strength amid economic crunch occasioned by low crude oil prices, insecurity and destruction of oil installations and eventually economic recession. Despite all of these challenges, his administration through the Ministries of Works, Urban Renewal and the Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency, embarked on a total of 455 projects comprising 1,269.42 kilometres of roads and 517.34 kilometres of drainage channels. As at April 30 this year, 263 of these roads, covering 638.23 kilometres of roads and 295.71 kilometres of associated drains have been completed.
Beyond road construction, one of the major policy planks of the Okowa led administration is Wealth Creation. In the first term, the state government devoted substantial resources, time and energy to build a knowledge-based economy and a critical mass of skills for entrepreneurship and business competitiveness. Over 20,000 persons benefited from the flagship Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP), Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP) and similar programmes undertaken by the Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Commerce and Industry, Women Affairs as well as the Delta State Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency.
The last four years was also a period of economic boom for artisans, petty traders and suppliers in the construction industry. With the completion of the Asaba Township Stadium (now Stephen Keshi Stadium), which has been hosting international football matches and other games, the hospitality industry in Asaba witnessed an increased level of patronage and prosperity.
As a health professional, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa brought his wealth of experience to bear in the State’s health sector with Delta State becoming the first state in the country to commence Universal Health Coverage with the establishment of the Delta State Contributory Health Commission in February 2016. The Commission commenced healthcare service access to enrolees on the 1st of January 2017. As of May 15, 2019, the total number of enrolees stood at 530,664. Providing services under the scheme are 110 primary healthcare facilities, 65 secondary healthcare facilities and 52 private healthcare facilities spread across the 25 Local Government Areas in Delta State. Healthcare service access has also been provided to employees of the State at the Abuja and Lagos Liaison offices.
Because of his superlative performances as Governor, he was honoured as ‘Man of the year 2017’ by the Independent newspaper at Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos. The award was presented by Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua. He also won other awards including the NUPENG’s Award for Peace in recognition of his contributions to peaceful oil and gas exploration in the Niger Delta region. Silver bird Governor of the Year 2018, Independent Governor of the Year 2018, Vanguard Newspapers Governor of the Year 2018.
In 2017, he also bagged the highest award of the University of Ibadan, Ibadan-Nigeria as the Alumni of the year 2016, where he successfully delivered a lecture titled “Good Governance for Wealth Creation and Sustainable Development: Experience and Lessons” at the 2017 edition of University of Ibadan Alumni lecture organised by the University of Ibadan Alumni Association. In October 2017 he was also conferred with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka highest award as the Dignity of Man Award at the 57th Founders’ Day celebration of the university.
A man of great faith, enviable impacts and of flawless reputation, Governor Okowa was described as a man of unquestionable integrity by Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar due to his roles in organising credible PDP National Conventions that saw the emergence of Prince Uche Secondus as National Chairman of the party and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar emerging as Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP with other aspirants accepting the outcome of the conventions as most transparent and credible.
Former President of the Senate, Senator David Mark in his goodwill message to mark the Governor’s 59th birthday anniversary, described him as a worthy ambassador of the upper legislative chamber. Senator Mark noted that Okowa’s silent revolution in terms of infrastructural development in Delta state is a testimony that he is effectively combining legislative and executive experiences to develop the oil-rich state.
Looking back the past 60 years, his family and indeed his associates and admirers do have cause to be grateful to the Almighty God for having granted him a life of great accomplishments and abiding fulfilment.
Ekwueme (one who does what he says he will do) is his traditional title and for him, the nobility of birth in a predominantly peasant milieu was more of a challenge than the comfort it provided. In fact, it was this outlook that has become the fulcrum on which his life and leadership style revolves. In Delta today, the citizens are rightly rich in expectations from the Okowa administration. This, in all honesty, is not unfounded because of his pedigree and passion for service.
Through consensus-building, thorny political issues have become free of tumult, acrimony and bad blood. This was made possible by Okowa’s calm persona on a very volatile system. By entrenching core values of selflessness and integrity, he has effectively earned the confidence and trust of his friends and foes alike. He has re-defined the concept of leadership and effective governance by effectively re-orientating the mindset of the political class to see politics as a call to service.
As he clocks 60 years, his track-record in politics and in the leadership of Delta state sure sets him apart as a selfless and passionate leader who burns to put his state on the world developmental map. He detests waste because he is confronted daily by the lack that dots the socio-economic landscape of Delta State. That is why since he came into office, he requested that friends and well-wishers should not place goodwill advertorials in the media. He rather urged them to convert such resources to assisting the needy.
Okowa, a grandfather and a man of impeccable character and unassailable integrity is married to his beloved heartthrob and founder of the 05 Initiative, Her Excellency, Dame Edith Okowa. Their union is blessed with four children and three grandchildren.
As this astute administrator celebrates his birthday today, I join other teeming Deltans and Nigerians to wish him a happy birthday and pray that God grant him more strength to lead a stronger Delta that will usher in better days for our people.
Happy birthday sir!
Aniagwu is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okowa.