Taking a memo to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on any subject; what is that thing you must get right?
Your numbers! Hahaha! He is not a mathematician but your numbers must be right.
Can you say more on Okowa and the economy; is he a man for the common man; what really is your opinion about this man and the economy?
Ifeanyi Okowa is a seasoned administrator and I don’t think anyone can fault that. He has an eye for picking people that have what he needs. He is a doctor; he does not know everybody but he is able to listen to people on different subject matters and make the best administrative decisions for the change he wants to bring. It is not easy to study medicine and graduate. He has the brain but he does not claim what he is not.
He knows that if he listens properly to different persons on different subject matters, he will make decisions that will move the state forward. In terms of economy, he is very interested in seeing it improve because he came at a time when the economy was not doing well. So, he has turned from being a medical doctor to an Economy person and is doing well at that.
Coming from his background gives him an advantage of not knowing too much but learning a lot. Sometimes, you have to listen to learn in order to make the best decision. If you are very cocky and make it look like you know everything, you won’t get much. When you say okay, this is my subject matter and this is my expertise, definitely there will be good people to listen to who can show you how to move forward in a myriad of activities. That is what we have seen him do. We have seen him allow us thrive, allow us be innovative; he corrects, he reads everything you bring. He says; this shouldn’t be. He is an avid reader: readers are leaders.
You just certified trainees of the Akwa-Ocha factory in Delta State, do you think you are progressing according to timeline; and are you happy with the progress so far made?
Doing what we did in Akwa-Ocha was not to make me happy. We did that intervention because over the years, the women doing the Akwa-Ocha cloth were promised some funds and equipment and they had not got it. So, when they came to pay us a courtesy visit, we wanted to know what the issues were, and they said the young women did not want to learn anymore. They said it took long to learn; about two months, to produce one. Nobody wants to wait that long to get one set done. We had to look around and we found different technologies for them in liaison with them but they rejected it because the cloth did not come out with strength. The one that was acceptable to them was from Ghana; the people doing Kente. We got them to complete one set in two days. We also got them to listen to the women in fabricating it to suit their needs. So, it was joint effort to get the desired result. Yet, I am not satisfied with two days for one cloth. We want shorter time. We are still researching and His Excellency wants a faster technology, still. Since we started this transformation, a lot of younger people have come forward to join.
Akwa-Ocha means white cloth which is the traditional print of the Anioma people, but we have introduced other colours and so the governor renamed it Akwa-Oma meaning beautiful cloth. Now, Akwa-Oma has been accepted as ‘Asoebi’ for wedding and other uses.
Also, we are doing shoes and bags in the same factory; mixing with leatherworks and fabrics to meet global tastes. Some are learning fabrics and some are doing leatherworks, all with the support of UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation). We are giving our own design identity in Delta State, training about 280 persons in the first intervention. They are having their own logos, aiming for the likes of Gucci. They are no cobblers. They have to be proudly Deltan and proudly Nigerian. It is unique to us and they fly our identity globally.
By the time the governor would be going back to the people for a new mandate, what do you think he will be telling them in numbers?
I hope he would be saying through the work he has put in my hands that at least 60,000 Deltans would have received alerts, training, equipment, etc, to move their business to the next level. We have done close to 30,000 persons, to be conservative. We could hit 100,000 but that could be wishful thinking. To be realistic, let’s target 60,000 in all the 25 local councils.
So far, we have done intervention in 170 federal wards in the state. We have 466 state wards and we want to ensure that there is someone that has benefited in each state ward. I believe that by the time he is going back, in any Delta State ward he goes to, we will find at least one beneficiary who has received something.
One thing he will like is that nobody gives bribes; that we are not extorting these people.
Can you recast the various tasks you are handling today on your desk?
Yes, I think I know them by heart; first is the Delta State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, giving access to funds, micro credit for small businesses. Most of what we have is for micro businesses. Since inception, we have given out in excess of N1.4billion to over 10,000 beneficiaries in Delta State, largely in the agric sector, some in trading.
Another activity we have here is factory for leatherworks where we train 280 persons to learn how to make handbags, shoes, traveling bags, wallets, and many other things with leather, in collaboration with UNIDO. In leatherworks, we have trained the group for the basic course. There are three courses in it; basic, intermediary and advanced. We are in the fourth class for the medium. By end of the year, we would go to the advanced levels. With intermediary you can do many things but with advanced, you can do design, etc.
We also do Akwa-ocha training (we have graduated our first set of 60 persons). We are also going to be handling packaging of certain agro-products like cassava to garri, plantain flour, etc. I also serve as focal person for the FG project to handle the Youth Empowerment Programme, N-Power, BoI loans, home-grown school feeding programme (one meal per child in primary school), the cash transfer which gives money to the very ill/old persons/physically challenged persons, etc. These are basically our projects that are officially in my hands.
DEMSMA and the work you do, who are key partners over the period of time?
We have partnered with PIND, with MADE for people in palm oil and cassava and fish to help in training and improved technology. They are also in the DFID. We have worked with some other groups in training our people, and worked a lot on inter-ministerial levels. Our office would always go to the office of Chief Job Creation Officer. We have tasks with technical and vocational agencies and did something with Enterprise Development Centre (South-South) run by the CBN. We had a bit of inter-ministerial tasks with Commerce and Industry, Ministry of Agric, etc. We have some partner-banks; financial institutions, some micro finance banks, and deposit money banks. We did the Akwa-Ocha graduation with Heritage Bank. We have very good relationship with Zenith, Fidelity, etc. Our best friends are banks, CBN, BoI, etc.
We are always trying to know who is giving one credit or the other. We are looking towards GroFin.
When you talk about plantain floor, are you considering something diabetic patients would use as swallow because sugar problem is prevalent in the South-South/East?
We even have orders for supply from the UK and Africans there. We supply locally and globally. Our governor is determined on this. We want to start with garri and plantain flour. We have a strength in palm oil, banga and pepper soup spices, well packaged. You will soon be hearing sounds of our export of non-oil products from Delta State.
Your kind of person would be doing SWOT analysis on yourself, with the load on you, what are your strengths?
My strength lies in my ability to go out to get what I need. I do not take ‘no’ for an answer. I am bold, and I have a lot of confidence in my ability to carry out any assignment and I have a very tongue. I can convince anybody on anything, if you give me your ears; even if you don’t, I take it. Also, I am very sociable.
Don’t you think other persons, like your competitors, will think you are pushing them too hard?
Ah, I love competition and my job is to push them down. They should go and get their own skills. I have no apologies at all.
When and what in the past shaped the way you do things and look at things, and how much has your past contributed to what you do today?
Well, I have worked in the private sector and I have worked in a couple of NGOs. A lot of the bottlenecks we face are policies and these are churned up largely with government influence. Private sector people can put out some things together but at the end of the day, it is somebody in the Government (legislative or executive arm) that would make some policies guide or implement action. I used to say, if I could get to a seat where I can do something about policy or do something about certain policies that are moribund, I would work on that. So, that is what shapes me. I am sitting where I can do that. So, why not? So get up and get it done. I like action.
What really motivates you in public office as you move from task to task?
It’s a privilege to serve because it does not come to everybody. It is unfortunate if people come into public sector job and do not enjoy helping people. That is what you are there to do in the first place. I particularly like my boss, His Excellency, the senator and medical doctor, Ifeanyi Okowa, because he has a heart to help people. I have a heart to help people. He supports me in the initiatives I do and the job description he gave me has to do with helping the poor, the down trodden, the less privileged, and the physically challenged; to help them with access to finance to build their own enterprises. It is something I am personally interested in, with or without government job. With the platform of Government, I can still pursue the goals and understand the working of the government to get mileage for people who do not have a voice. You can see that so far, in different interventions, we have done up to 30,000 in different types of interventions through the activities he has asked me to handle. The idea of 30,000 people smiling around me is what I get. They tell you ‘thank you’. They have no money to give you but I see God’s blessing in my life and in my state.
Is there any other matter you may want to share?
We are very happy with the way BusinessDay has worked with us as a state. We love the way you have covered us objectively and we are happy as a state to have you. We want investors to come into this state. We have four flagship projects especially the agro-industrial park handled by the Chief Job Creation Officer. We already have some investors from Israel and China and one local investor. We want others to look at what we are doing. Asaba is a budding state capital; we have hotels, restraints, trailer parks, etc. We want to see investors coming to look in what areas in a smart city they can invest in. We have the airport and we want to improve it. We have the gas plant under the office of the Senior Special Adviser on Policy, the professor, Sylvester Monye. We want to have a helicopter pad.
The master plan is available. There is the gas-to-power plant, all fully designed and costed. The sharing ratio is already worked out. We want investors to come and we want job creation to begin. Oil and gas is still alive and kicking in Delta State but these other projects are outside it.
Those four projects are very dear to our governor and we want investors to know that we have done a lot to empower our youths to calm them down. We do not have restive youths. We are working on Ease of Doing Business Index especially in areas of litigation. Inter-ministerial work has been done to make Delta State more receptive to investors.