Fate beckons to Okowa Jackson Ekwugum
Election season in Nigeria never lacks intrigue and drama. The events leading up to the announcement of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s running mate were no exception. The anxiety was palpable as many Nigerians waited anxiously to find out who his choice would be as the vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). With the south-south and southeast areas jostling for position, it was uncertain where the pendulum would swing. However, with Peter Obi already flying the Labor flag, it seemed less likely that the South East would be favoured. The premature announcement of Governor Nyesom Wike as Atiku’s running mate, presumably due to a fictitious vote by an internal party committee and subsequent rebuttal from the PDP hierarchy, only heightened the suspense and heighten the tension.
The official announcement of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa 24 hours later as the PDP Vice Presidential candidate by Presidential Standard Bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar finally ended two weeks of speculation, uncertainty, horse-trading politics and media propaganda. Political pundits, analysts and commentators will have a field day dissecting the factors that favored Governor Okowa, but as one of his top aides over the past seven years, his emergence was a no-brainer.
Governor Okowa has the temperament, depth of knowledge, administrative acumen and political acumen required for the position; he possesses the age-old attributes of loyalty, skill and character. Okowa’s political acumen would certainly be an asset to the ticket as the PDP battles the APC for the presidency. A man with a wealth of legislative and executive experience, the PDP and Atiku can rely on his consummate political skills and his unearthly ability to cultivate friendships and build bridges across ethnic and religious divides. As governor of a multi-ethnic state like Delta, considered a microcosm of Nigeria, he was able to ensure peaceful co-existence and harmony among diverse ethnic nationalities through his skillful handling of sensitive issues and his exemplary leadership.
Born 63 years ago, Okowa cut his political teeth in the Social Democratic Party of the 1990s and, in the current political regime, has established himself nationally as Chairman of the Senate Health Committee (2011- 2015), where he spearheaded the enactment 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 delivery of health services in the Nigerian federation. Prior to the law, there was no health legislation outlining the national health system and defining the roles and responsibilities of the three levels of government and other health sector stakeholders.
When elected as governor of Delta State in 2015, Okowa was faced with the task of keeping intact a political family that was not used to being in opposition. To make matters worse, the economy was in free fall. It was a situation that challenged his political ingenuity and ingenuity. Governor Okowa handled the difficult situation with great wisdom, tact, humility and maturity. He ensured that party leaders, especially those aggrieved by party developments before he took office, were treated with dignity and respect. Even the few who jumped ship soon returned when they saw the governor’s disposition to peace, reconciliation and unity. As a result, the PDP in Delta State remained a strong and cohesive unit.
Governor Okowa has been an influential figure in the PDP. He is the current Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum. As Chairman of the PDP Special National Convention in 2018, Governor Okowa organized what was then the freest and most transparent presidential primary election that made Atiku Abubakar the PDP’s presidential standard bearer for the 2019 elections. Previously, he also served as the chairman of the non-elective national convention special committee of the PDP in 2017.
Always respectful of elders, he is very civil and courteous in the way he speaks and interacts 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 the people he met or worked with during his professional and political career. Even when at times certain people he has helped along the way have turned against him, he remains loyal to them, sometimes much to the chagrin of those around him who want him to wield the big stick.
If you are looking for honesty, transparency and accountability in governance, Governor Okowa fits the bill. Despite his long career in public service dating back to 1991, Dr. Okowa has distinguished himself as a man of uncommon simplicity and unassailable integrity. During this period, in which he served as Local Government Secretary, Local Government Chairman, three times Commissioner, State Government Secretary, Senator and now Governor, it should be noted that he has not not been tainted by corruption. He is a man of deep spiritual convictions, guided by the biblical injunction that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.
An unpretentious man, he is not carried away by the privileges of position and power. For a very long time as the state’s CEO, he was driven around in the SUV he used as a senator instead of putting more strain on the state’s already strained finances by buying a new car. Likewise, it was the Mercedes Benz car that was used by his predecessor at the Abuja Liaison Office which he drove whenever he was in Abuja. A new car was recently purchased as the Mercedes was refurbished and still in service. Except that has changed in recent months, he also does not have an official car at the Lagos Liaison Office, preferring to travel in a friend’s car whenever he is in Lagos, whether for official or private commitments.
Governor Okowa insists on transparency in public communication. He frowns at any attempt to exaggerate things or embellish his accomplishments. In the advantageous position of working closely with him, I saw him question the figures provided by ministries/agencies and insist that they presented the real picture to the public. “I promised not to lie to the people,” he said. Indeed, I remember a former Information Commissioner who once expressed his joy and gratitude for “never having to lie” on behalf of the government.
Calm, level-headed, and unflappable even in times of crisis, Okowa is a quiet achiever. He has a voracious appetite for work, and if there’s one man who knows how to turn a bad situation around, it’s Okowa.
The alarming state of the economy he encountered as governor was enough to make him go back on his election promises. But with unparalleled courage, he embarked on cost-cutting measures and plugged the leaks in the system. Of course, there were those who were unimpressed – and certainly unhappy – 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 continued to grow strong in all indices of socio-economic development. As evidence of the economic impacts of Okowa’s youth entrepreneurship development programs. Delta was ranked the best state in human capital development in the 2017 State Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria. In 2020, Delta was ranked the second least poor state, after Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
This achievement is best appreciated when juxtaposed with the fact that Delta State was the 12th poorest state in Nigeria in 2010 in the NBS rankings. The state also won the State Government’s Outstanding Healthcare Program in 2017 and the 2018 National Achievement Award as the state with the most people covered by its national social-focused health insurance scheme. on poor and vulnerable populations in Nigeria.
It is because he is not brought 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 nevertheless, he still received applause from leaders at all levels. At the inauguration of Prof. Chike Edozien’s state-of-the-art central secretariat complex, Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo said, “There is more for which Okowa deserves praise. Despite declining revenues and severe resource constraints at all levels of government, he was able to fund this project. At a separate event, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal praised Governor Okowa for “showing good leadership in all aspects of governance.” And when commissioning the Teacher Professional Development Centre, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State described Okowa as “a man who approaches problems with principle”.
As Nigerians eagerly wait to save the country from the incompetence of the APC leadership, they can count on the fact that Okowa will be a major asset for an Atiku presidency which will obviously be driven by skill, ideas free market and values-based leadership.
Ekwugum is the communications officer to Governor Okowa.