By Barth Ozah
After he successfully steered the Peoples Democratic Party to what has been acclaimed as the “freest and fairest party primaries in the history of Nigeria’s politics,” Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is gradually carving a niche for himself as a jinx breaker. Last week, the Governor played host to former President Olusegun Obasanjo to commission three landmark projects in Boji Boji (Ika North East L.G.A) and Asaba, the state capital.
Two of them, the Asaba Township Stadium (now renamed Stephen Keshi Stadium) and the Old Lagos/Asaba road in Boji Boji had inexplicably defied spirited attempts by previous administrations to complete them, leading to widespread public perception that these projects were perhaps jinxed.
Today the story has changed, perhaps a testament not only to Governor Okowa’s ingenuity and managerial acumen but also largely to his spiritual approach to governance. It is no longer a secret that the Governor takes his faith seriously and engages the supernatural power of God to actualise his aspirations for the state.
The Asaba Township Stadium was conceived by the indigenes of the community in the 60s before the then Mid-western Government took over the building of the stadium in 1974 under the late Brig-Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia. Colonel George Agbazika Innih as military administrator inherited the stadium in 1975 . He handed it over to his successor, Commodore Husaini Abdullahi. None of the seven other successive governors that governed the defunct Bendel State was able to complete the Asaba Stadium. Under the current democratic dispensation, Chief James Ibori officially laid the foundation for a modern stadium but, unfortunately, work could not progress before his tenure ended.
While commending Governor Okowa for constructing such an edifice, the former President stated that the stadium would also provide avenue for people to exercise noting, “whoever you are, whatever age you are, you must exercise, you must be fit.” According to the former President, the stadium would boost the economy of the state even as he asked governor Okowa to add hostel facilities in the stadium for people to live in the stadium and have opportunities of training round the clock to enable them become future world champions.
“We must catch them young, we have the facilities, we have to recruit and train them from a very young age, Obasanjo remarked. “I was here to perform the ground breaking ceremony of the stadium. I am here to commission it 14 years after and I will be here again to see the hostel. Governor Okowa is not just a Road Master, he is also a Stadium Master, and because of the work he has done, he is also the Bulldozer.”
The Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien, represented at the occasion by the Iyase of Asaba, Chief Patrick Onyeobi thanked Governor Okowa for his interest in the development of Asaba and other parts of the state, observing that since the coming of the Governor, Asaba is wearing a status befitting its status as a state capital. On his part, Governor Okowa described former the former President as the father of “modern day democracy,” in Nigeria.
According to the Governor, “beyond entertainment and sports tourism, we must try and grow the local economy. This stadium is one of the ways we are trying to grow the local economy because for every sporting activity in the stadium, a lot of socio-economic activities take place.”
The dualised 9.5km old Lagos/Asagba road and the Owei-Ekei / Owa-Alero dual carriageway equally suffered long neglect having been awarded by the administration of James Ibori but could not be completed until Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan came and reawarded the two contracts yet work could not progress until Governor Okowa’s administration broke all barriers to fixed the projects.
At Owa-Alero were the former President was hosted by the Ika people, after the commissioning of the dualised 5.6 km Owa Ekei/Owa-Alero road, the excitement of the people was palpable.
Mr. Gbekile Joshua, Owa-Alero Youth President, in an interview revealed that he was in Junior Secondary School when work began on the road. He narrated: “My brother this road was a nightmare to us for years. The entire people of Ika appreciate Governor Okowa for wiping out our tears and for saving us from untold sufferings. We pray God to give him power to do more. We suffered for long because of the deplorable condition of the road before but Okowa has wiped out our tears. We are praying for his re-election in 2019. The only thing we owe the Governor is to be united and work for his re-election.
Speaking at the occasion, Obasanjo said. “When I was told Governor Okowa is a road master, I didn’t know what they were talking about but today the Governor has proved to me that he is a road master, and for you to be a road master you must be a bulldozer. He is interested not only in road infrastructure but he is also interested in education and health. At any stage in our lives we will require medical care and that is why we brought National Health Insurance Scheme to enable Nigerians take care of themselves. We must have good medical services so as to stop medical tourism. When you provide health, education and road you must provide jobs for the youths otherwise governance will be meaningless.”
He thanked governor Okowa for paying all the arears of local government staff and that of teachers in the state, describing Okowa as a good leader who deserves re-election in 2019 saying; “Okowa needs second term to consolidate because he is a good product. You don’t throw good product when you don’t know what the new one will bring.”
Earlier, the Chairman Delta State Traditional Rulers Council, HRM Obi Emmanuel Efeizomor, the Obi of Owa, who welcomed the former President on behalf of his people stated that “we are privileged to have you (Obasanjo) in Owa. Obasanjo is a man who knows Nigeria in and out. Governors that served the state did second term each and Okowa’s own should not be an exception.”
On his part, Governor Okowa said the commissioning of the 5.6 km Owa-Ekei/Owa-Alero road was long overdue even as he thanked the people of Owa where he hailed from for providing the enabling environment for Government to provide the much needed development in the area.
“I want to thank you, especially the monarchs, for providing the needed environment for us to develop the entire state. We have taken our road infrastructure to all parts of the state including the riverine areas because we believe that when roads are in good condition it will open up commerce. One thing that gladdens my heart is the Insurance Health Policy. We have been able to domesticate that law and as at today over 300,000 Deltans have registered in the scheme.”
He said his administration has decided to pay the premium for underage children and pregnant women as well as 20 widows in each of the 270 wards of the state, stressing that Delta is the first state to domesticate the health insurance policy with all the civil servants enrolled.”