The electioneering season in Nigeria is never in short supply of intrigues and drama. Events leading to the announcement of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s running mate were no exception. The anxiety was palpable as many Nigerians waited in bated breath to know who his choice as PDP vice-presidential candidate will be and this was monitored by NjenjeMediaNews.
With the South-South and South-East zones jostling for the position, it was uncertain where the pendulum would swing. However, with Peter Obi already flying the flag of the Labour Party, it seemed less likely that the South-East would be favoured.
The premature announcement of Governor Nyesom Wike as Atiku’s running mate, presumably because of a mock vote by an internal committee of the party and the subsequent rebuttal by the PDP hierarchy, only heightened the suspense and exacerbated the tension.
The formal announcement of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa twenty fours later as the PDP Vice-presidential candidate by the presidential flagbearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, finally put paid to two weeks of speculation, uncertainty, political horse trading, and media propaganda. Political pundits, analysts, and commentators will have a field day dissecting the factors that favoured Governor Okowa but as one of his senior aides in the last seven years, his emergence was a no brainer.
Governor Okowa has at least five or six things in his favour: temperament, depth of knowledge, administrative acumen, and political savvy required for the office; he possesses the time-honoured attributes of loyalty, competence, and character. Okowa’s political sagacity would certainly be an asset to the ticket as the PDP battles the APC for the presidency.
A man with rich legislative and executive experience, the PDP and Atiku can count on his consummate political skills and uncanny ability to cultivate friendships and build bridges across ethnic and religious divides. As the governor of a multi-ethnic state like Delta, regarded as a microcosm of Nigeria, he has been able to ensure peaceful co-existence and harmony among the diverse ethnic nationalities with his adroit handling of sensitive issues and exemplary leadership.
Born 63 years ago, Okowa cut his political teeth in the Social Democratic Party of the 1990s and, in the current political dispensation, made a mark nationally as Chairman Senate Committee on Health, where he spearheaded the promulgation of the National Health Act.
The National Health Act provides the legal framework for the regulation, development, and management of the National Health System, setting standards for the rendering of health services in the Nigerian federation. Prior to the Act, there was no health legislation describing the national health system and defining the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers of government and other stakeholders in the health sector.
Upon his election as Governor of Delta State in 2015, Okowa was confronted with the task of keeping intact a political family that was not used to being in the opposition. To make matters worse, the economy was in a tailspin. It was a situation that tasked his political ingenuity and resourcefulness. Governor Okowa managed the difficult situation with great wisdom, tact, humility, and maturity.
He ensured that the party chieftains, especially those aggrieved with developments in the party before he came into office, were treated with dignity and respect. Even the few that jumped ship soon made a comeback when they saw the disposition of the governor towards peace, reconciliation, and unity. As a result, the PDP in Delta State has remained a strong, cohesive unit.
Governor Okowa has been an influential figure in the PDP. He is the current Chairman of South-South Governors Forum. As Chairman of the Special National Convention PDP in 2018, Governor Okowa conducted what was then the freest, most transparent presidential primary election that produced Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential flagbearer for the 2019 election. Prior to that he also served as the Chairman, Special Non-Elective National Convention Committee of the PDP in 2017.
Ever respectful of elders, he is very civil and courteous in the way he speaks to and relates with people, including his peers and the younger generation. As a person and a leader, I can testify that Governor Okowa is loyal to a fault. He does not forget people he met or worked with in his professional and political careers. Even when sometimes some people he helped along the way turned against him, he remains loyal to them, sometimes to the chagrin of those around him who want him to wield the big stick.
If you are looking for honesty and transparency in governance, Governor Okowa fits the bill. Despite his long public service career which dates to 1991, Dr Okowa has distinguished himself as a man of uncommon simplicity and unassailable integrity. During this period, in which he has served as secretary of local government, local government chairman, three-time commissioner, Secretary to the State Government, Senator, and now governor, it is noteworthy that he has not been tainted with corruption. He is a man of deep spiritual convictions, driven by the biblical injunction that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.
A man of unpretentious mien, he is not carried away by the privileges of position and power. For a very long time as the state chief executive, he was being chauffeured in the SUV he used as a Senator instead of putting more pressure on the already stressed finances of the state by buying a new car.
Similarly, it was the Mercedes Benz car that was used by his predecessor in the Abuja Liaison Office that he rode in whenever he was in Abuja. A new car was recently purchased while the Mercedes was refurbished and still in use. Except it has changed in the last few months, he also has no official car at the Lagos Liaison Office preferring to ride in his friend’s car each time he was in Lagos, whether for official or private engagements.
Governor Okowa insists on transparency in public communication. He frowns at any attempt to exaggerate things or embellish his achievements. From the vantage position of working closely with him, I have seen him question figures supplied by ministries/agencies and insisted that they presented the true picture to the public.
“I have promised that I would not lie to the people,” he would say. Indeed, I recall a former Commissioner of Information once expressing joy and gratitude for “never being made to lie” on behalf of the government.
Calm, levelheaded, and unflappable even in moments of crisis, Okowa is a silent achiever. He has a voracious appetite for work, and if there is any man who knows how to turn a bad situation around, it is Okowa. The parlous state of the economy he met as governor was enough to make him walk back on his electoral promises.
But with unmatched courage, he embarked on cost cutting measures and plugged leakages in the system. Of course, there were those who were not impressed – and certainly not happy – with the new regime of fiscal discipline and the need for the political class to curb its appetite for instant gratification. But with the passage of time, the Governor was vindicated.
Delta State under him has continued to wax strong in all indices of socio-economic development. As evidence of the economic impacts of Okowa’s youth entrepreneurship development programmes. Delta was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017 states peer review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria. In 2020, Delta was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, coming only after Lagos, Nigeria’s business capital, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
This achievement is better appreciated when juxtaposed with the fact that Delta State was the 12th poorest state in Nigeria as at 2010 in the NBS ranking. The state also won Outstanding State Government Healthcare Programme in 2017 and National Award of Excellence 2018 as the state with the most people covered under its State Social Health Insurance Scheme with a Focus on the Poor and Vulnerable Population in Nigeria.
It is because he is not given to self-adulation in the form of paid advertisements and self -congratulatory messages that many tend to overlook his phenomenal achievements in Delta State. But nonetheless, he has consistently received plaudits from leaders across board. At the commissioning of the ultra- modern Prof. Chike Edozien Central Secretariat Complex, the Vice President, Professor Yomi Osinbajo said: “There is more for which Okowa deserves commendation.
Despite dwindling revenue receipt and severe resource constraints across all levels of government, he has been able to provide funding for this project.” At another event, Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal lauded Governor Okowa for “providing good leadership in all aspects of governance.” And while commissioning the Teachers Professional Development Centre, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State described Okowa as “a man who tackles issues with principle.”
As Nigerians look forward to rescuing the country from the ineptitude of APC leadership, they can bank on the fact that Okowa will be a great asset to an Atiku presidency which obviously will be driven by competence, free market ideas, and value-based leadership.
* Ekwugum is Communication Manager to Governor Okowa.