Ifeanyi Okowa, a medical doctor and former senator representing Delta north is not known to be the proverbial empty vessel that makes the loudest noise. A deft politician and grassroots man, he seldom talks politics. He prefers to engage his audience on issues of development, nation-building and people empowerment.
And he’s not the gallivanting type either. Not in the class of politicians whose pastime is to junket from place to place in interminable travels that yield no fruits but drain the nation of scarce forex. However, recently, Okowa was drawn to the soapbox to talk politics and even serve notice of much bigger political shenanigans in the coming months. At the core of his message was the 2023 gubernatorial election in Delta. Who succeeds Okowa?
With a good two years left under his belt to complete his second tenure of four years, you would expect that matters of succession and treacherous politics would be kept in abeyance. You would expect members of his cabinet to concentrate on the job at hand: transforming Okowa’s vision of a greater, smarter and more prosperous Delta into reality. But, never! Some members of his cabinet have turned lecherous, at best chameleonic: Working for Okowa at day but turning against him at night. This is the way of some politicians. They lack character. They are shorn of decorum, lacking in honour and deficient in values. Unfortunately, they are working with an Okowa, a man of honour, who values his image far above lucre and lust for power. Okowa could not understand, neither stomach the noxious banal values that these politicians trade openly making them behave like snotty touts at motor parks.
Thus, when Okowa mounted the dais while speaking at the empowerment of constituents of Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency by their representative and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Ndudi Elumelu, in Asaba recently, he was blunt, punchy and direct. He laid it bare. He simply passed a message to the discerning: He is fully aware of the mindless politics, needless alignments and even exchange and offer of money to appointees and by appointees. He did not mince words. He told Delta people that he was out to serve them, to bring development to the people who massively voted him into office. By the way, since 1999, Okowa holds the record of amassing the highest majority votes cast in favour of any gubernatorial candidate. His victory in 2015 was overwhelming. It got even more overflowing in 2019 when he trounced the opposition, collectively, with a wide vote margin. It’s a testimony to his popularity and state-wide acceptance. An indexation of his outstanding performance in his first term.
Therefore, a man of such political stature cannot afford to fail the people who wholly trusted him with representative power. And he’s determined not to fail. To please his people, he needs an equal measure of devotion to duty from his lieutenants. He desired their unalloyed commitment to the development of Delta, not fractious politics. He desired their buy-in to his agenda carefully spelt out and anchored on prosperity for all Deltans.
Alas, some of the appointees have other ideas: marking the time when they should be redeeming the time; holding nocturnal meetings and plotting with outsiders on how to install the next governor of Delta at a time they ought to be tilling the ground with Okowa to ensure a prosperous future and a flourishing present for Deltans.
Okowa spoke off the cuff but his message, as always, was lucid and graced with wisdom. His words were carefully chosen, neither acerbic nor caustic. He spoke like a good leader, counselling from his exalted observatory as the political father of his party in his state. His exact words: “Whoever is coming to rule this state, by the grace of God, must be somebody who is ready to ensure that there is fairness, equity and justice.
“We want somebody who will come to Asaba and see Asaba as his home and not somebody who will come and feel that Asaba as headquarters is misplaced.
“I can see that a lot has been going on in our dear state, especially the scramble on who will replace Dr Ifeanyi Okowa come 2023.
“Unfortunately, some are not even patient. They started their campaigns in the first three months of my second term in office.
“I want to charge our leaders and people to be cautious because politics is such that if you don’t read it rightly, you will directly throw your people into fire.
“I am not all-knowing, but at the appropriate time, leaders must be ready to sit down for us to do a proper analysis politically before we make decisions so that we will not lead our people into darkness.
“I want to caution our leaders who are jumping the ship because of the very little thing that has been provided for them.
“It is not about self, it is going to be about the people.
“I am the governor of the state and I appreciate it. I believe in equity and will not shy away from the fact that I am from Delta North Senatorial District.
“By the grace of God, in our approach to governance, we have been fair in what we do.
“Shine your eyes so that people will not come to lure you with N500,000 and N1,000,000 and you sell the conscience of your people and you lure them into fire.
“I believe in equity; it has shown that we are not inferior in Delta North. Please let us stay cautious, especially, the leaders.
“So, I urge our people that this is the time to stay together; this is the time to think alike and I want to reassure you that in the next one month, we will start the politics.”
Barely 72 hours after he made these statements, Okowa applied a political masterstroke. He dissolved his cabinet. To many, it came as a surprise. But to perceptive political watchers, it was inevitable. The governor must weed out traitors and political chameleons in his cabinet. The governor explained that he took the action to reduce the growing level of distraction and palpable over-heating of the polity by some gladiators in his cabinet.
In six years, Okowa has held Delta state together with the glue of development. The state with a history of upheavals, political and ethnic, does not need the febrile and wearisome politics being played by some actors. Now is the time to listen to the wise counsel of a peaceful governor: Delta politics should not be about self; it should be about the people.
As for 2023, it’s rather too early in the day to rev the engine. History has shown time and again that those who start too early burn out mid-way. Delta needs cohesion, not fragmentation.
A governor likes Okowa who has given the state a new kick in socio-economic advancement deserves the full support of all appointees and political actors, not the fitful and torridly hesitant commitment being openly and clandestinely promoted by some.
Okowa has taken Delta to a new height in development. His successor must be someone who will not lower the bar but raise it notches higher. Deltans must be guided!
*Umukoro, a public policy analyst, writes from Warri