By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Recently, this author has seen people (Deltans and non Deltans alike) argue that the success of the administration of the Governor of Delta State, Mr Ifeanyi Okowa, particularly in the infrastructural development and promotion of technical education in the state dwarfed that of his predecessors.
These efforts on the part of the Governor contributed appreciably to why Delta State was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017 States Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria, and also in 2020.
It is also responsible for why Delta as a state was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, coming only after Lagos, Nigeria’s business hub, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Despite the validity of the above declarations, I have also within this span, observed critics argue but scantly that Delta is a small state, oil-producing, and, therefore, can achieve its goals and record developments easily. That the success so far recorded in the state has nothing to do with creative leadership but a function of the availability of natural resources in the state.
Like the first group mentioned above, I have in a recent post among other things noted that the ongoing development in Delta State tellingly justifies the popular belief that creative concepts of leaders can bring both disruptive and constructive aspects; laced with the capacity to shatter set patterns of thinking, can threaten the status quo, or at the very least stir up people’s anxieties.
While noting that Okowa has in the past six years demonstrated that strategic success cannot be reduced to a formula, nor can one become a strategic thinker by reading a book, but through constant demonstration of competence, connection and character, the piece submitted that if one had visited the coastal areas of Delta State before May 29, 2015, till date, he/she may have concluded that the area was a location that has apparently never heard of civilization.
But under Governor Okowa’s administration, the people are coming to understand that education and infrastructural development of an area are the best tools for shaping the future of the people and not devices for an exclusive privileged few.
Among all the reactions/comments received, a particular one from a supposedly coastal dweller seems to stand out as it was a positive reaction with a sprinkle of agenda-setting.
Essentially, it read in part; Okowa has deflected the age-long excuse by previous administrations that the coastal region cannot be developed because the terrain is a marshy-a feature that renders construction difficult if not impossible, can no longer be sustained, this particular reader/respondent in line appreciated the Governor for the level of good/internal road networks and other infrastructural development- a feat that he said qualifies the Governor as the first to give a sense of belonging to the people of the region.
He, however, concluded that for the Governor to finish strong, he should construct road networks that will link Warri to Escravos terminals in Warri South-West Local Council Area of Delta and another from Escravos to Forcados terminal in Burutu Local Government Area as well as complete Ayakoromo Bridge to link communities in Ughelli South and Burutu Council Areas.
More specifically, further analysis of his comment reveals that while the first part of his comment acts as a morale booster to the state governor, the second part is the demand for the construction of road networks that will link Warri to Escravos terminals in Warri South-West Local Council Area of Delta and another from Escravos to Forcados terminal in Burutu Local Government Area, as well as complete Ayakoromo Bridge to link communities in Ughelli South and Burutu Council Areas, performs agenda-setting function for the state governor and his team.
Continuing, he said the bridge project has lingered for a very long time having been awarded by the now outgone Emmanuel Udughan administration. The project has in fact thrust a responsibility and extremely important destiny; to complete this process of socioeconomic rejuvenation of the people of the riverine community which the state has spent far too long a time doing.
Like the Bomadi Bridge which was executed by Chief James Onanefe Ibori’s administration, connecting three local government areas, (Burutu, Ughele and Patani), likewise, the Ayakoromo bridge going by commentaries, when completed, promises to promote the socioeconomic lives and wellbeing of Deltans living in over in four local governments of the state.
Take, as an illustration, the Bobougbene community and its environs are reputed for the production of palm oil in commercial quantity and supply to Warri metropolis, and Okwuagbe markets in Ugheli South. The bridge when completed will provide easy access to these markets. Even more, it will open up the majority of communities that are yet to have access to the ‘uplands’.
In reputation terms, there are more reasons to applaud Governor Okowa’s effort in this direction. It is said that a leader’s image is an amalgam of a variety of factors, and followers must at intervals evaluate these perceived factors in order to dictate if they are in a positive or negative light.
Particularly, an image is capable of saying much more about a leader than any of his long speeches and verbal declarations and once established, the image becomes not just the leader’s picture but remains highly durable.
Even as this is being internalized, there exists yet another area of concern that in my view needs urgent attention in the coastal area of the state. It is in the areas of bringing primary and secondary schools close to communities in the coastal/riverine communities in the state.
Just very recently, I listened with rapt attention to King Monday Whiskey, Udurhie I, the Ovie of Iderhe Kingdom, speak on the challenges children of his kingdom need to confront to access education.
King Whiskey, who spoke in Lagos, among other things lamented that children in the Niger Delta must attain the age of 12 before starting from primary one because it is only at that age that children can be able to paddle their boat successfully to the other side of the community where their school is located.
In such a case, says Damilola Adeparua, a public affairs commentator, it is arguable that the percentage of uneducated women will be very high since it is only at the age of 12 boys can be allowed to paddle boats, then it will take a supernatural girl of 12 to start at that age. This makes the global statistics feasible that just 39% of rural girls attend secondary school and this is far fewer than that of rural boys, which is 45%, compared to urban girls, which is 59% and urban boys 60%.
Some of the girls who even live in communities which have access to free education and have their schools located in places where it is accessible are denied their right to education based on religious reasons, while some are hampered by poverty.
The issue of children’s education deprivation is not limited to girls as posited by UNICEF that one in every 5 of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education. Delta State, particularly the people of the coastal communities, is in my opinion not insulated from this challenge.
Why the state urgently needs to act on this new awareness is that school is far or close to the home according to what experts are saying definitely affects the student in many ways.
For the students living far from the school, the long commute every day is physically and mentally tiring and as a result, it’s harder to focus on studying after getting home. Their lifestyle is usually more hectic because of the travel. Most, if not all school-related events are actually near the school so the student has to travel to attend all that, too.
Comparatively, those who live closer to the school, are usually better connected to school and its events because, most, if not all school-related events happen near the school. And because of the small distance, they’re more up to date with it.
Also, a maximum of students who attend a particular school, live close to it, so they’re better connected with each other compared to the folks who live away and therefore tend to have more contacts and more connections. They are also more likely to become popular in school because they know a lot of people. They also are mentally more relaxed because they have a lot of time on their hands and they don’t necessarily have to deal with travelling.
The UNICEF survey says something else; there are still a huge number of those who are in school but are learning nothing, noting that schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school, it concluded.
Admittedly, while the people of the region seem certain to make an increasing contribution to the development of the state as a handful of them can now afford the luxury of education and access to good amenities, it is clear in hindsight that the Governor tackled this outlined challenges before handing over to the yet to be identified administration come 2023.
Achieving this feat will give the people of the region sense to feel that they have a governor that not only cares but act as a technique to support the people understanding of the Governor’s vision.
Most importantly, the state needs to pay attention to present challenges in the region as development professionals warn that preparing for the future involves, first of all, training our young citizens to lead the development process, driven by a sense of their absolute duty to maintain our economic evolution. This will encourage them to place their dynamic potential at the service of our society.
Indeed, the state has a wealth of young talents, and it is the responsibility of each and every sector of society to nurture them. This can only be done through proper education, training, support and encouragement; and by scouting for special skills and talents, while also nurturing creative initiatives.
Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via email@example.com/08032725374