By Ken Obayagbon –
Within the receding months, certain groups – political and socio-cultural groups including professional bodies – have been mounting pressure on Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta to throw his hat into the ring for the 2023 presidential election. Aside these groups, certain noteworthy individuals from Delta and across the length and breadth of the nation have lent their voices to the call on Okowa to run for the highest political office in Nigeria.
Okowa, a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is perceived as a committed party man, one who, in good times and bad times, never shifted his loyalty nor mutated in philosophy against that of the PDP. Among several power blocs in his party, he is seen as a pure-breed democrat whose forte is in his belief that democracy must advance human capital development, allow for plurality of ideas including fostering free speech and the rule of law.
These attributes have endeared Okowa to many Nigerians including persons of other political parties. It is for these reasons that he has at various times earned plaudits from politicians of diverse ideologies including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, whom while in Asaba last year to commission the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose, tech-enabled State Secretariat spared no words as he poured encomiums on Okowa for making development and public good the centre-piece of his administration.
In the past seven years as governor of Delta State, Okowa has imprinted in the hearts of Deltans indelible totems that speak to his development-centric leadership. From rural transformation, healthcare, agriculture, youth empowerment, education – both cognitive and technical – to road infrastructure including linking riverine communities with sturdy bridges and birthing a shift towards productivity among the public servants, Okowa has given a new lease to the state. For once since the creation of Delta, there are conspicuous emblems of development and undeniable ensigns of transformational leadership across all the senatorial districts in the state.
It’s based on these evidential landmarks of development that not a few watchers of the nation’s political space are calling on Okowa to ascend the rung of leadership in the nation’s political space by contesting for the Presidential ticket of his party, the PDP. The roll call of Okowa-must-run protagonists is as wide in ethnic diversity as it’s widespread in geographical configuration.
Groups like the Citizens Alliance Project (CAP), Igbo Kwudoro Okowa, Oxygen Movement, the Northern Professionals Forum (NPF), Global Youth Skill Acquisition and Poverty Eradication Organisation, to name but a few, have at various times urged Okowa to take up the challenge of leading the nation. They point to the Governor’s unfettered disposition to peace, fairness, unity, peerless people skill, emotional intelligence, wealth-creation capacity, rare competence at public finance management and inclination to development as reasons why he’s the best man for the job.
Nigeria is now challenged on many fronts. Insecurity, corruption, paralysis of law and order, a continuously sagging economy occasioned by poor receipts from crude oil, unemployment, and general youth restiveness, among other ills, daily contend for the soul of the nation. The auguries are simply scary, and analysts are all agreed that what is needed now is the right leadership at the centre. A leadership that can manage the diversities of the nation, innovate solutions to the myriad challenges and create a fertile ecosystem that would help the teeming youth population unleash their creative energies to productive ventures.
Delta mirrors the Nigerian Union in many ways. The diversity of the state, the resourcefulness of Deltans, its rich flora and fauna and the resilience of the people to adapt to new paradigms make Delta a microcosm of Nigeria. The state, just as Nigeria is currently experiencing in some parts particularly in the north and parts of the south, was once a theatre of restiveness in the creeks, especially among the youths. But Okowa has sufficiently addressed the knotty issue of restiveness through active youth empowerment and engagement. Simply put, the governor has deployed state-wide development as instrument to birth peace. Delta now knows real peace, and this has impacted positively on crude oil production among the upstream operators.
In the last seven years, the incidence of force majeure (inability of oil companies to continue operation due to unforeseen circumstances, usually on account of insecurity, threat to life or natural disaster) in the oil and gas sector within Delta creeks and oil-production belt has reduced, almost non-existent. This is a testimony to the positive impact of development on the people who now see themselves as stakeholders in the oil and gas value chain. This is down to Okowa’s peaceful disposition to the oil-bearing community and the mutual synergy he has forged between the oil companies and the people. The groups, in urging Okowa to run for Presidency, insist that his style of leadership anchored on sustainable development is what is needed in Nigeria today. They believe that an Okowa Presidency would manage the nation’s diversity better, deepen the processes of democratization and birth a new Nigeria where equity, fairness, and justice to all and for all would be the planks governance.
Some point to Okowa’s democratic credentials as reasons why they want him at the centre. It could be recalled that on account of his highly refined democratic creed, his party had on several occasions in the past relied on him to deliver what many PDP faithful refer to as their best conventions, conducted in the most transparent and credible processes.
They also argue that among the battery of Presidential contenders in the two frontline parties, PDP and the All Progressives Congress, APC, Okowa and just one or two others, does not carry any baggage and burden of corruption. A man who started his political career in 1991 as Secretary to a Local Government, later Chairman of Local Government, commissioner, Secretary to the State Government, Senator and now Governor without any verifiable and proven case of corrupt enrichment in Nigeria, must be someone of very high moral rectitude. This is the badge Okowa wears; a badge of honour, integrity and dignity.
It’s on account of these credentials that these groups and individuals of diverse ethno-religious divides, professional and business persuasions are rooting for an Okowa Presidency. It’s a clarion call by genuinely concerned Nigerians prompted by the tides of the times Nigeria finds herself. But will Okowa answer the call? The answer is in the womb of time. And if eventually he does, his promoters see him as one candidate who will be easy to sell across the nation given his antecedents of performance and good governance.
· Obayagbon, a political analyst, writes from Benin