Celebrating Delta at 24
By Michael Tidi
The 27th of August every year on which we commemorate the creation of Delta State from the defunct Bendel state presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come as a people. It also affords us the opportunity to celebrate and thank God for yet another year of statehood. Whereas from the indices of development, our state is no pushover in Nigeria, nevertheless, the state’s comparatively less than desired level of development vis-a-vis our abundant human and natural resources has occasioned gloomy anniversary commentaries over the years which in some quarters, unfortunately tend towards despondency about the Deltan condition. The dominant sentiment is often that we have little if nothing to celebrate; indeed that there is very little to show for more than two decades of independent statehood.
This assertion is clearly an exaggeration. Granted, our state’s journey since 1991 has been marked by heady hopes and dashed dreams; by steps forward followed frustratingly by steps backward. We have made both avoidable and inevitable mistakes as a people in the course of our very challenging journey to statehood. We have however learned crucial lessons through bitter experiences along the way. We have learned that for democracy to deliver developmental gains, the people must be placed at the centre of policy design and must be its drivers. Democracy, more than anything else, is a system that makes people the masters of their fate by making them the main actors in developing the policies that affect them. These lessons will stand us in good stead as we chart a course for a more sustainable future for our people.
And so, contrary to the naysayers, we have come a long way. We have come from a time when internal colonialists in the guise of military dictatorships plundered our collective patrimony and debased our values, to an age in which our main concerns are deepening democracy and ensuring broad-based prosperity for all. This transition is worth commemorating even though it is true that while the old is dying, the new is not yet fully born. Great sons and daughters of Delta State, both known and unknown have made tremendous sacrifices to bring us to this point. To them we owe a tremendous debt for the statehood we now enjoy. Our national anthem says that “the labors of our heroes past shall never be in vain.” It would therefore be most unworthy of us to belittle the immense sacrifices of those who have gone before us by saying that Delta State has made no progress at all. As we bask in the euphoria of the 24th anniversary of the creation of our dear state, we must not fail to pay tribute to those illustrious sons and daughters of Delta; patriots who expended their energies in pursuit of a state we can all equally call our own in love and brotherhood. We remember them on this day and honor them. Even so, it is abundantly clear that we are not yet where we want to be as a state. This anniversary which is coming just before the celebration of the 100days in Office of the Okowa administration is therefore an opportunity for us to examine how far we have come and our areas of focus going forward.
Anniversary Day not only gives us an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come but also on how far we have to go. However, the enormity of the distance to be covered towards achieving a functional state should not discourage us from taking the necessary first steps. In this regard, it is significant that the commitment of our transformational Governor, Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa, to equity, justice and fairness in the governance of our state has been exemplified and reiterated these past months as has recently been echoed by key actors within the state and national level alike. The recognition of the need to re-examine the fundamental pillars of our oneness is commendable. It is therefore now even more important that all ethnic groups in the state must concentrate on deepening already existing ties with their fellow Deltans while building bridges to those we may not necessarily feel very close to, as of now, due to the currency of the exaggerated differences keeping us apart. While fiercely and unyieldingly protecting our various ethnic interests, we must remain committed to the far higher goal of fostering inter-ethnic harmony in Delta state where it has pleased God to make us brothers and sisters as we all forge ahead for the collective progress of our state in a Nigeria of equity and justice.
There is obviously much work to be done but happily the Governor it has pleased God to give us as we celebrate this anniversary is certainly up to the task and has clearly risen to the occasion. The good doctor atop the Okowa administration is expanding the access to qualitative healthcare through the Executive Bill on Delta State Contributory Health Commission, which when passed into law, will trigger a robust health insurance scheme that gives access to affordable and quality health services.The state government has also given Technical Education a boost with the approval for the procurement of educational equipment for technical colleges in Sapele, Ofagbe and Agbor. Even the 130 Delta students that were almost stranded in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, because certain conditions were not hitherto met, have all been given respite with the approval of funds for the completion of their technical courses. Through Governor Okowa’s efforts to broaden opportunities, we are working to ensure that our children will enjoy a better quality of life than their forebears and that by reason of our sacrifices now they will have the means to guarantee an even better life for their own children.
In his determination to meet the aspirations of the long abandoned people of the oil-producing sections of the state, His Excellency, initiated the repositioning of DESOPADEC into an agency that is internally efficient and externally effective in terms of delivering on its mandate, thus the successful amendment of the DESOPADEC principal law. Also, in recognition of the noble role our senior citizens play in the society, His Excellency has inaugurated a 31-Man Advisory/Peace Building Council to strengthen the foundation of the unity of the state. This is in addition to the Governor’s appointment of seasoned technocrats/politicians as members of the state Executive Council. Also, this administration has achieved very significant mileage in the area of job creation, with the shortlisting of sizeable number of candidates for the state’s YAGEP and STEP programs. This is indicative of the fact that this administration is determined to deliver on Governor Okowa’s vision of building entrepreneurs, who will be self-employed and will in turn be in a position to create employment opportunities for others with all its attendant benefits of boosting the state’s economy.
Through the participatory governance culture this administration has established, all citizens have been given a voice and a stake in shaping the future of Delta State. For the first time in our history, the people themselves are actively involved in determining the policies that are transforming their communities. As the dutiful servant-leader of all Deltans, His Excellency has made it one of his cardinal responsibilities to factor in the aspirations of all his constituents in re-directing government’s focus to their areas of priority. This administration in responding to popular feedback will thus be concentrating more efforts on human empowerment while not neglecting its commitments in the area of infrastructural development.
It should be noted that all the foregoing are being done against the backdrop of severe financial constraints occasioned by the oil glut, as well as low IGR-remittance in recent times. The Okowa administration will however continue to stretch itself through fiscal prudence in meeting the aspirations of the people of Delta. His Excellency has also assured that even as he does this, he will continue to promote and insist on the fundamentals of transparency and accountability in the administration of the affairs of the state. Reference must also be made to the Asaba Capital Territory Development Agency, which is aimed at rehabilitating the state capital and develop it into a sit of government that will be a source of pride to the entire citizenry of Delta State regardless of where they originate from.
In concluding, I urge us all on this anniversary to reflect on the need to keep faith with Senator Okowa’s administration. Democracy is not perfect. Given the multiplicity of interests and cultures in our society, democracy will often seem slow and ponderous. But democratization is a journey, not a destination, and we must forge ahead on this journey. Just as earlier generations strove for independence from colonialists, and liberty from military despots, it has fallen on us to strive to make democracy meaningful in the lives of our people. We must keep faith with the future and keep faith with our values. Our resolve must be to continue to deepen our democracy in the strong belief that as we persist in engaging our institutions and processes, they will deliver into our hands a more prosperous future for us all.
TIDI, Special Assistant on News Media to Governor Okowa, wrote in from Asaba.