By Jérôme-Mario Chijioke Utomi
In the words of Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States of America (USA), the experience of democracy is like the experience of life itself – always changing, endless in its variety, sometimes turbulent and daunting. all the more precious because it has been tested in adversity.
Likewise, evidence abounds, if only sought, that in every democratic setting there are clear thinkers, confused thinkers, and people who fall in between. Clear thinkers are the ones who can bring everything to the right points – they are very hard to find. But if you get yourself a team of clear thinkers, the possibilities are endless. They are men who see tomorrow, pioneers and high-level executives, but most often misunderstood by some compatriots still stuck in the old normality of yesterday.
Ifeanyi Okowa, the incumbent Governor of Delta State, without a shadow of a doubt, rightly falls into the range of a clear thinker. But like any clear thinker, it is currently misunderstood by some compatriots still stuck in the old normality of yesterday.
A case in point to support this assertion is the recent drama and accusations leveled against the ruling party in Delta State, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), by some party advisers from the Delta Central Senatorial District that it tries to get them to vote for his choice in the next gubernatorial primary to choose the party’s flag bearer.
According to the post, the governor is using the instruments of government and has asked them to back his supposed preferred candidate, the Speaker of the Delta State Assembly, Sheriff Oborevworio.
At first glance, the above story seems to be a reality. It seems alluring to believe especially as the nation prepares for general elections; a time when, like war, everything is considered fair; where and when political actors welcome every opportunity to continually dig through the mud in search of political gold.
At this level, there is no single cause of conflict. Rather, conflict becomes context-specific, multi-causal and multi-dimensional and can result from a combination of the following factors which include but are not limited to issues of mutual distrust, suspicion, prejudice and insults.
In Delta State, such a development/event is exacerbated by the feudal and oligarchic nature of a ruling bloc/section of the state and collaborated by the inability, sincerity and lack of trust of these greedy gladiators to be able to negotiate and resolve contentious issues without resorting to current political gimmicks.
But beyond this peripheral prism, there is something deeply disturbing in this latest oblique, summary and calculated accusation leveled against the person of the Governor.
Aside from the deliberate refusal to entertain alternative views through a number of credible sources of information freely available in the public domain that might help to better understand the governor’s position on the matter, and their choice of focus on convenient untruths presented with a superficial, emotional and manipulative approach that is unworthy of our democracy, making the current evolution of the state a disturbing reality, is that these accusers have exploited a mixture of fear and propaganda among gullible Deltans and portrayed themselves as bold defenders of our state while undermining the foundations of our unity.
But for reasons that come in double folds, this piece comes as no surprise.
First and very fundamental, it is generally accepted that when human beings develop a higher order of thought, they acquire the ability to conceptualize threats instead of simply perceiving them. But they have also acquired the ability to conceptualize imaginary threats. And when groups of people are persuaded to conceptualize these imagined threats, they activate the fear response as powerfully as real threats would.
This is the basis of the current challenge.
For reasons yet to be identified, the Governor’s accusers appear to have activated a fear response as potent as real threats across the state would.
To call the current attack a crisis is to realize that it comes at a time when Okowa, as a creative leader, daily professes that the PDP, of which he is the leader in the state, has a policy to rotate the governorship among the three senators. Districts of the state for the purposes of equity and inclusiveness through an equitable distribution of appointments and projects without influencing/interfering with the process that generates these beneficiaries.
Along those same lines, if there’s another reason Governor Okowa won’t engage in the alleged scheme, it’s the fact that at no time in the history of our beloved state of the Delta have we been as united as today. or witnessed such a magnitude of confidence in ourselves and our state under Okowa’s leadership.
As we know, the state, in the words of the Governor, is a microcosm of Nigeria as it is populated by different ethnic nationalities. It has had inter-ethnic conflicts/clashes, deadly border disputes, especially over oil lands, and political tensions. It has had high unemployment and poverty rates. Fortunately, successive state governments have approached the issues in different ways, and I’m building on the foundations they laid.
Looking at the words above from the Governor himself, it becomes apparent that there is no way he is joining in the destruction of a home he helped build or taking any action. which will be contrary to lasting peace in the State.
Instead of the current attack, name-calling, and slander campaign against the Governor, this piece supports the view that what the Governor needs is support, not defamation.
There are so many reasons that informed this decision; this ranges from the Governor’s readiness for conflict resolution and peace building in the state to his outstanding performance in developing the state’s infrastructure, especially in the areas of road networks.
To underscore this position, let’s listen to Okowa as he captured it at a recent function in Lagos; We have erected structures for conflict resolution and peacebuilding. They include the Office of the Special Adviser on Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding and the Delta State Advisory and Peacebuilding Council, comprised of 42 (forty two) respected men and women in various fields , drawn from all local government areas of the state. These structures proactively prevented crises by resolving disputes quickly and efficiently.
Continuing, he added that; We also have a deliberate policy of tackling youth unemployment through vocational training and entrepreneurship development programmes. I believe the way out of the quagmire of unemployment is to equip young people with the technical know-how, job skills, values and resources to become self-employed, as opposed to ad hoc empowerment.
This is what my administration has done by instituting various vocational training and entrepreneurship development programs, which include: the Professional Education and Entrepreneurship Program (STEP); Young Agricultural Entrepreneurs Program (YAGEP); Graduate Employment Enhancement Program (GEEP); Rural Youth Skills Acquisition Program (RYSA); Entrepreneurship Skills Training for Girls (GEST); and Women’s Entrepreneurship Skills Acquisition Program (WESAP).
These programs are trainee-centered and service-oriented. Sectors and activities covered include agriculture, agricultural value chain services, vocational skills-based micro-enterprises and craft enterprises. Moreover, the training and mentoring processes aim beyond training entrepreneurs to produce leaders and managers who have high levels of personal accountability and effectiveness. I am pleased to announce that after six years of faithful implementation of these programs, we have trained and offered entrepreneurship support kits to several thousand young people.
Following the success of these interventions and other efforts to promote technical education, Delta State was ranked the best state in human capital development in the 2017 State Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria. Also in 2020, Delta was named the second least poor state, coming only after Lagos, the business hub of Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS)..
The above efforts can only come from a ruler who is willing to save and serve his people.
On a final note, as the commentary continues, there are two striking attributes that set Okowa apart; First, well-meaning Nigerians agree that he is a national leader respected by all.
Second, he is among the few public office holders in the country who have made politics using global rules and dictates.
He is of the opinion of this exhibit exposed to the present attack not because there is an established connection with the said allegation, but mainly because, the accusers believe that he holds a public office and therefore, has not the right to privacy.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be contacted via [email protected]/08032725374