Coming into office four years ago, Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa was well-briefed of the tasks ahead of him. He was ready because he came with a vision that was equally well-briefed, and clear. As he announced during his inauguration of May 29, 2015, it was a vision “predicated upon honest leadership and responsible government.” Adding: “Our first responsibility as a government is to rekindle… hope, and give our people the power to dream again.”
Four years down the line, these are the questions: How much of that vision has been realized? Are the conditions of Deltans any better today than they were four years ago? And, is the state itself in a better stead?
The answer is obvious. On economic front, Okowa has evidently made more than a dent on that vision. He has demonstrated that with prudent management of resources in a time of general economic grind, a state can run profitably for the benefits of its people. Slowly but surely, he has made significant strides in his honest attempt to refocus the economic dynamics of the state for efficiency and viability.
When he took over the reins of power in May 2015, the state he inherited was burdened with a Revenue Bond and commercial banks’ indebtedness totaling N98.62BN, while outstanding contractual obligations was N538,601,962,421.50. Less than four years in office, Okowa’s government has significantly reduced that exposure to about N228, 328,360,009. This has been made possible by the administration’s creativity in revalidation, repudiation, reconciliation and value for money.
Still, the governor remains unrelenting.
Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) has become a veritable source of funding states’ budgets, especially at these times when federal allocations have continued to dwindle. Delta State, under Governor Okowa, has shown a good measure of ingenuity in shoring up of its IGR capabilities. In this wise, the state has systematically overhauled its revenue generation machinery. This includes expansion of taxpayers base as wells as fortifying enforcement/regulatory measures. Among other fiscal management reforms, the government has introduced the e-Receipt and Central Billing System aimed at blocking leakages.
And the yield has been quick and robust, as the tax agent database for the formal sector rose from 1,800 to 7,200, while the database of taxpayers in the informal sector jumped from about 5,000 to 336,061. As a result, the IGR of the state has seen a steady growth. The result shows that N44BN and N51BN were generated in 2016 and 2017, respectively, while the sum of N31.2BN was net-in at the end of the first half of 2018. On the whole, the economic profile of the state has been heading northwards, and still heaving with so much promise.
If the state government is doing this significantly well for itself, what then is the economic lot of ordinary Deltans under Governor Okowa’s administration? So much! Evidence: The administration set off by developing a policy of building strong and resilient economy that will deliver prosperity for all Deltans, especially the poor both in the cities and rural communities. An aspect of it is the human capital development policy that centres on building a knowledge economy, equip the people with the skills that will create jobs and wealth. The policy is also expected to stimulate the growth of micro, small and medium scale enterprises and enhance the business competitiveness of the State.
To drive these, the office of the Chief Job Creation Officer was created as a special purpose vehicle. Delightfully, its two flagship programmes, Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP), have been very effective and turning unemployed youths of between 18 and 35 years old into entrepreneurs and employers of labour.
The Ministries of Agriculture, Women Affairs and Youth Development as well as the Delta State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency have also been turning out trained and empowered Deltans who now create wealth for themselves and their families. As at September 30, 2018, over 15,041 persons had been trained and established in various enterprises.
The administration has also revamped about eight vocational centres and moving to about 12. For depth and sustainability, it has created the Board for Technical and Vocational Education, which runs fully on its own. Okowa’s philosophy on empowering the people is clear. It is based on the good sense of creating new opportunities for job creation and private investment. This, according to the governor, seeks “to instill in the youths the entrepreneurial spirit while supporting and promoting the growth and development of MSMEs”
To further demonstrate his commitment in this regard, Governor Okowa recently presented cash and equipment to more than 900 farmers across the state, so they can expand their farming enterprises. Apart from the farmers, hundreds of artisans comprising commercial motorcycle operators as well as butchers also received loans to boost their businesses. On the last count, Okowa’s government has disbursed over N835M to more than 600 entrepreneurship and cooperatives groups through the Delta State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency since he assumed office. As a man who is steeped in equity and fairness, this largesse cuts across the 25 local government areas of the state.
Evidently, Okowa has re-engineered and re-energized the Delta State’s economic machine for efficiency and result. Happily, the primary beneficiaries of the dividend are the now economically empowered, hitherto poor and neglected, Deltans. Now, Okowa has restored their hopes and “the power to dream again.”
If a governor could do so much in his first term, it can only be imagined how much more he can (and will) do with the chance of a second term.
One thing that has stood Okowa out among the pantheon of governors is his prudence and skillful deployment of meagre resources to impact on all aspects of human endeavour in his state. At a time many states are stuck in the whirlpool of development stasis with some not even able to pay basic workers’ salaries, Okowa has navigated Delta through the rough patches with strict adherence to fiscal prudence and projects prioritization.
Under Okowa, Delta economy and by extension, Nigerian economy has experienced growth exemplified by higher revenue earnings. The peace he has wrought in the state is responsible for increased oil receipts being enjoyed by the nation. The governor of Delta State has shown that good governance is possible even in the midst of myriad challenges.
•Umukoro writes from Warri, Delta State