On August 29, Delta joined 11 other states to mark their 30th anniversary since creation by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida on the same day in 1991. Delta Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa seized the opportunity to score the Bull’s Eye. He rolled out the drums to honour 18 Deltans, men and women of renown who have excelled in their fields of calling and brought glory to the state.
Delta was carved out from the old Bendel. The other half was Edo state. Other states created on that day were Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Enugu, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Osun, Taraba and Yobe. A dozen bunch of states created by military fiat. While some of these states have continued to struggle economically and even socio-politically, Delta has managed to ride the storm. It has survived struggles, upheavals and sundry schisms and has continued to shine with zillion stars.
Since its creation, the state has seen worst days, good days and better days, having passed through the hands of nine leaders (civilian governors and military administrators) with Okowa being the tenth, and the fourth democratically elected governor. These past years, leader after leader had marked the anniversary of the creation of Delta. But none has ever chosen to honour outstanding sons and daughters of the state, 18 of them, in the manner Governor Okowa has done. Decorating 18 Deltans, three of them posthumously, for their exploits in their various stations of life at a time the state marked its third decade of existence was not only instructive but symbolic. Though the list of those honoured may not have been exhaustive, it more than casts the state as a grateful community of responsible men and women. It also projects Okowa as a perceptive and grateful leader.
Delta is never in short supply of heroes and heroines. Men and woman who have and are still making a mark on the continent and on the global stage. Arriving at only 18 names among the stellar assembly of distinguished Deltans must have been one of the hardest assignments in the long list of activities that presaged the anniversary. The list is a roll call of heavyweights, living and dead. From those who rocked the state in its cradle shortly after its creation to those who ensured they flew the Delta flag both at home and abroad in clear reminder to the world that Delta never lost its legendary traits of excellence and derring-do.
Step forth for your diadem: Highly esteemed politician, former minister and an astute advocate for justice for the Niger Delta, Chief Edwin Clark; maverick banker and Chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia; African youth entrepreneurship promoter, banker extraordinaire and Chairman of UBA, Mr Tony Elumelu; history-making President of World Trade Organisation, WTO, (the first female to occupy that position) and former World Bank Managing Director among other portfolios, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; academician, respected researcher and historian, Prof Obaro Ikime.
And yet another woman, Prof Grace Alele Williams, a mathematician, historically the first female Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin, first Nigerian woman to earn a doctorate degree, among other ensigns and insignia of scholarship. From the sciences came Prof Emmanuel Nwanze, a celebrated biochemist and visiting Professor to several overseas universities including the University of Milan, Italy; Mr. Charles Majoroh, an accomplished architect whose designs and masterpieces have won him multiple awards and mainstreamed him into the privileged stage as an international architectural design juror. In the Nigerian media landscape, Delta has been the home of founders of the big media houses in the country. And it was no surprise that the inimitable media icon, serial media business pioneer and Publisher of Vanguard newspapers, Mr. Sam Amuka (aka Uncle Sam, Sad Sam – title of a column he wrote in his younger years in journalism) made the honour list.
From the highly intellectualized frontiers of diplomacy, one amazon who had distinguished herself and brought glory to the nation, made the list. A quintessential diplomat who is a combination of beauty, brawn and brain, a former Foreign Affairs Minister and first woman to hold the post of Permanent Representative at the United Nations in the history of Nigeria, Professor Joy Ogwu made the list, deservedly.
Of what use is it for a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul? Compilers of the list must have thought about this and were properly guided as to include popular Pastor and televangelist Ayo Oritsejafor, an uncompromising preacher and minder of the business of the soul. It’s often said that where two or three Deltans are gathered, there’s entertainment, sports and innovation. It’s therefore no surprise that four Deltans in the sporting and entertainment ecosystems made the list. They were all crowned with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Take a bow for the pathfinder of the Nigeria comedy industry, the ever witty Atunyota Akpobome aka Alibaba and his alter ego in the music industry, the multi-talented Michael Collins Ajereh (Don Jazzy); Olympic medalist and decorated long jumper Ese Brume and the sensational swimmer Timipamere Akiayefa. These four, members of the younger generation, also made the honorees’ list.
Three legends of politics and unrepentant protagonists of true fiscal federalism: Chief Mukoro Mowoe, Chief James Otobo, former Deputy Premier of Mid-West region, and Chief Dennis Osadebay, former Premier of Mid-West were honoured posthumously.
Needless restating that the 18 honorees do not extensively reflect the number of Deltans that have impacted the nation, continent and the world at large, but it’s a good starting point and a memorable template laid by the Okowa government. Next year and in subsequent years to come, Deltans would like to see the likes of Stephen Keshi, Chief Abel Ubeku, the Ibru business dynasty, Professor Augustine Esogbue, the first black man to become a fully tenured professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, and many other outliers honored while alive or posthumously.
When Pastor Oritsejafor, who spoke on behalf of the recipients, made his speech after they had been decorated, it was obvious that this must rank as the best and most cherished awards among the recipients, all of whom had won several awards in and outside the country. It’s honour from home, from their people. Oritsejafor likened it to a prophet being honoured at home, a rarity in human history, especially going by the Biblical account of the Lord Jesus not being honoured in His homestead. It is said that when you praise a warrior, you rouse him to do more exploits. This special recognition should challenge every Deltan to aspire to be the best knowing that someday to come, a prophet would be honoured at home, by his own people.
All the recipients deserve their medals. It’s a reward based on merit, not a promotion of mediocrity or primitive exaltation of patchiness. The awards represent the typical Delta culture of excellence and laudation of only what is noble and virtuous. It’s a fitting postscript to the litany of activities that headlined Delta at 30. Governor Okowa truly scored the Bull’s Eye with this. A strong foundation to build on in subsequent celebrations of the state’s anniversary.
*Umukoro, a Deltan, writes from Warri