It’s almost one year since this administration came to power. What are your achievements within this period?
The present administration started with enthroning stability for the good governance of the state. It brought the old Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) family together and the party in the state is now a united family. In a nutshell, what has happened within close to one year of this administration is that Ekwueme (meaning one who keeps his word), Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State, is keeping to his promises to Deltans such that nobody is complaining or crying about unfulfilled promises or marginalisation because the diverse interests in the state are represented in terms of even and balanced development of the state as well as giving the different parts of the state a sense of belonging through his laudable approach to governance. This has also added to the stability we are enjoying in the state. When he came in as governor, he discovered that the 2015 budget, which he met was no longer realistic in the sense that the parameters upon which it was made was no longer workable due to the prevailing oil price, he immediately set out with a review of that budget. He presented his focus for the half year to give that budget a bearing with present realities and to get our people to begin to think differently. Having promised Prosperity for all Deltans, he came prepared to deliver it, starting on a solid note with Bills that demonstrated that here was a leader who knew where he wanted to take his people. So, the first of his Midas touch in governance became the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) Amendment Bill, the Job Creation Agency, Contributory Health Insurance Scheme and the Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency bills, to mention some of them. These Bills were able to sail through because they were well articulated with sound knowledge of governance prior to his election as governor. After the bills were passed, he has been able to drive their implementation by maintaining financial discipline and prudence in expenditure required of the present circumstances because Governor Okowa cuts the state’s coat according to its cloth by directing resources to where the problems are and distributing scarce resources to achieve maximum results. In the area of roads, in anticipation of the rains, the governor set about the full completion of projects he met on ground. The Okpanam-Asaba Road has been turned into a visible project with a strong commitment to complete it and there is a balance of such projects with equal commitment to complete them across the three Senatorial districts of the state. You will hear Ekwueme, our governor, saying that he made these promises and here he is fulfilling them and Deltans are satisfied that he is on the right track. They are happy and you will see that before the rain finally sets in, most of these projects would have been commissioned. All these are happening because he understands that government is a continuum. This also extends to key Federal roads in the state like the Sapele-Warri Road. The Direct Labour Agency (DLA) has done well in places like Asaba, Warri, Ughelli and Ozoro and other places and so are our contractors who are trusted and competent construction companies with whom we maintain very good synergy.
The governor’s programmes and approach to governance recently attracted a key development partner, the African Development Bank (ADB) to the state and the institution has shown willingness to partner with the government in ongoing development programmes in the state. They took particular note of our job creation efforts, micro credit, agriculture and youth empowerment. We have trained and empowered two sets of graduands and the third set is getting set for camp. We have trained over 2000 to become self-employed, so we adopted the best formula towards solving the problem of youth unemployment. We train them in vocations of their choice, mentor them, at the end, we empower them with starter packs and even extend loans to them. They become employers of labour and this is a multiplier effect on the state’s economy. We have disbursed needed funds to cooperatives under the micro credit. Along the line, we observed old practices like people introducing names of cronies to become beneficiaries but the present government has devised a means such that you now see only the end users, the market associations, co-operatives and we have disbursed close to N1 billion.
In the transport sector, we have introduced the Delta State Traffic Management Agency (DESTMA).
In revenue generation, we are bringing the informal sector into the tax regime to shore up the IGR of the state. People believe in the government of Governor Okowa and one of our strategies is advocacy and sensitisation on tax as a civic responsibility. The governor also set up a peace and reconciliation committee to engage communities, traditional institutions and the youth and we have relative peace and stability in the state.
The state’s economic management team comes up with planned policies while all the MDAs were involved in making the 2016 Budget, so what they brought was merged into the government focus, we then made adjustments before sending to the state’s legislature. The MDAs brought what they can reasonably deliver within the available resources and with the way we are flowing with the 2016 budget by the end of the fiscal year, we will achieve full implementation.
We formulated a four-year rolling plan and each MDA has outlined what they plan to achieve in the next four years. So, we already know by what standards we will be judged at the end of four years.
In the ministry of information, when we came, the impression people had was so wrong but we have gradually changed that impression. We conducted a facility tour of all the directorates with a view to defining the roles they will play in actualising the governor’s SMART Agenda, which include interacting with the grassroots and translating the policies of government to make people understand them. To this end, we have reorganised the state-owned media outfits, The Pointer Newspaper and Delta Broadcasting Service (DBS) in terms of content and circulation or transmission coverage. We have Deltans outside the state and they are desirous to know what is happening back home in the state. We have DBS on Startimes and we have also revived the Veracity magazine.
One of your achievements is reuniting the old PDP family. Is this responsible for various political appointees which many have said is an overbloated number?
Bringing back the PDP political family together does not mean making political appointments. The governor only makes appointments that are required for the good governance of the state. I make bold to say that we do not have an overbloated number of political appointees in the state. This is a State Government that plans; very prudent and structured in delivering development for Deltans. This is why we are up to date in the payment of salaries up to April 2016 because we are carrying the strength we can cater for within available resources. Such persons talking about overbloated number of appointees are ignorant of the actual figures because Delta has one of the least number of political appointees in the country.
You spoke about being up to date in salary payments but recently, Delta was one of the states listed by ICPC as having defaulted in the disbursement of bail-out funds. Can you shed more light on this?
It’s unfortunate that sometimes, people make comments in a haste. However, our publication in the newspapers had put paid to that issue. That report was based on stale information. We have disbursed to the last kobo with dates which are verifiable and the records are there. April salaries had been paid, yet somebody was trumpeting the falsehood that Delta is owing one month’s salary.
The state government rushed in three bills on assumption of office, the DESOPADEC Amendment Bill, budget review and the Delta Capital Territory Development Agency bill. Apart from the DESOPADEC Bills, which had some community resistance, the rest had a smooth sail at the Assembly, giving the impression that the House is a rubber stamp of the executive or what magic did you perform that made the House to pass those bills without hassles?
The governor did not rush those Bills as there were well thought-out. For the DESOPADEC Bill, they might have been pockets of resistance but it was meant to balance the operational modus of the organization to give everyone concerned a sense of belonging. For the other bill, we are aware that the Delta Capital Territory had been abandoned for a long time and something needed to be done to provide a conducive work and business environment for all Deltans.
Are you aware that the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) station envisioned to transmit from Asaba had been abandoned for many years and this is a key Federal presence in the state?
Even before this administration came into office, I had heard of attempts by the FRCN to come to the state. I’m already involved in resolving the bottlenecks. They had visited me and were well received. I discovered that they were moved away from the site in the airport area because of the transmission mast being close to the airport, so we understand it’s for safety reasons. The last administration was talking about providing a new site, so we are seeing how we can make this possible because we recognise that these Federal agencies complement our efforts. Part of the recognition of their inputs was the recent donation of a 40 KVA generator to NTA Asaba.
Officials of DESTMA have been spotted on Asaba roads. Do you think Asaba has come to the level that should necessitate the establishment of similar agencies that are seen in older state capitals?
With the ugly experience of driving between the Okpanam axis and Asaba, especially in the early hours of the morning and after work hours or if you had driven from the airport towards Coker junction and heading towards the bridgehead or negotiating the turning towards Ibusa, worse still, going through Ogbeogonogo at rush hours around the close of business, you will find that the coming of DESTMA is timely and very responsive of the state government to changing times in the state. It’s not just about routine traffic control but confronting the poor attitudes of our drivers and instilling discipline in road users generally. The traffic situation in places like Asaba, Ughelli, Udu or Uvwie heading to Warri looks like commotion at times, so we are responding to a worrisome situation in our growing urban centres.
The fear of the public is that the officials may soon resort to intimidation and extorting road users which is not new for agencies such as this?
DESTMA is only enforcing those rules that road users were expected to follow before now and if those rules are followed, there’s no need for anybody to fear.
On assumption of office, the governor told the State Assembly that the state was broke which many people saw as indicting the last administration but of recent, he has started justifying its financial wisdom, sometimes heaping the blame on the oil price which started falling then. Is he suddenly soft pedaling from being vocal about the finances of the state in the beginning?
We have come to set the state on a new path with our own approach to governance and not to critise anybody. It is distraction anytime anybody tries to get the governor to critizse the last administration. He is forward looking but by the time he presented a review of the 2015 Budget to the Assembly, it was true that our debt portfolio was heavy, so it was a statement of fact. The purpose was for people to know that we are in different circumstances.
You carved a niche for yourself in sports administration and suddenly you find yourself on this job, a position some sections of the media has often canvassed should be left for professional journalists and those experienced in media strategy. What makes you believe you are the right man for the job?
I fall into that category of people that are prepared to do well in this position. I was a member of the NUJ as a member of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), I was a publisher and involved in marketing communications since 1993 of which PR is just a component. I’m also a member of the Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria (APCON). So, I’m not a stranger in this position. I was given a position where I’m most comfortable because I know what to do. This is a terrain I understand very well and where I have something to offer. I’m a square peg in a square hole.
What challenges have you faced so far as the mouthpiece of the state government?
Funding because of the general wind of recession in the economy nationwide, then studying and understanding the psyche of civil servants, and not to forget, reporting of falsehood.
Quote 1: “. In a nutshell, what has happened within close to one year of this administration is that Ekwueme (meaning one who keeps his word), Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State, is keeping to his promises to Deltans such that nobody is complaining or crying about unfulfilled promises or marginalisation because the diverse interests in the state are represented in terms of even and balanced development of the state as well as giving the different parts of the state a sense of belonging through his laudable approach to governance.”
Quote 2: “the coming of DESTMA is timely and very responsive of the state government to changing times in the state. It’s not just about routine traffic control but confronting the poor attitudes of our drivers and instilling discipline in road users generally.”
Ministry of Information