The governorship election has been won and lost in Delta State. Senior Correspondent Okungbowa Aiwerie examines the challenges that will confront Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in his second term.
On May 29, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa will be sworn in for a second term as governor of Delta State, following his victory at the just concluded polls.
Okowa’s administration has achieved modest success in many areas, especially in health, education, infrastructure and social investment schemes in his first tenure.
Despite his successes, Okowa will face major challenges in two critical areas of politics and economy.
An important challenge is the tact or lack of it in handling the potentially combustible issue of succession in 2023. Has the 2023 governorship race started in Delta State? No, not quite! But the contending political forces within the PDP are already jostling for vantage position in the race for 2023.
Will Okowa honour the pact signed between Urhobo traditional rulers and his administration in the run-up to the just concluded elections?
Or will he succumb to pressures from the Ijaws and Isoko minorities in Delta South Senatorial District, who have never assumed the gubernatorial office since the creation of Delta State, to ditch the rotational/zoning policy for zoning on the basis of ethnicity.
At the January 2019 meeting with Urhobo traditional rulers, midwifed by ex-Gov James Ibori at the palace of Ohworode of Olomu, Ogbon Ogoni-Oghoro, Olomu, Ughelli South L.G.A., Okowa publicly pledged to support an Urhobo candidate in 2023, in line with the rotational principle of the PDP.
His words: ”Our next governor will come from Urhobo land after my tenure in the spirit of equity. By God’s Grace I will support the cause of the Urhobo’s in producing the next governor after my tenure. God made it possible that our leader, Chief James Ibori, spent eight years in office.Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan also had eight years in office as our governor and by divine Providence,I am governor.”
He added: “Because of the roles you are playing as respected traditional rulers, the trend should continue.”
But, on the eve of Okowa’s second tenure, zoning is generating controversy, with the declaration by president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Peretubo Oweilaemi, that the zoning policy be scrapped in favour of zoning on the basis of ethnicity.
The Ijaws are of the view that, having completed the zoning for the three senatorial districts, they should take over from the governor in 2023 while the Urhobos argue that the zoning should continue from where it started, being Delta central, in 1999.
The National coordinator of the Urhobo Youth Forum for Change (UYFC) Eshanekpe Israel, countered, saying that the chances of the people of the Delta central producing the next governor in 2023 is not negotiable.
According to him, the political arrangement which has been existing since 1999 when the PDP came to power in Delta is still standing, vowing that nobody can change the arrangement in the state.
Okowa won with landslide victories in the six state constituencies both ethnic groups control in Delta South senatorial district, unlike in Delta Central where the opposition APC made inroads, winning two state constituencies.
These six Isoko/Ijaw state constituencies – Patani, Bomadi, Burutu,Warri South West, Isoko South and Isoko North – contributed immensely to the successes recorded by the PDP at the last general elections, and the ruling party will be unwilling to lose them to the opposition.
Will Okowa defy Ibori and support the cause of the Ijaws and Isoko in a major gang up against the Urhobos? Or will he honour his promises? Only time will tell.
Another major challenge that the Okowa administration will grapple with is paucity of funds to execute projects.
Already, the lack of it is threatening critical projects, a situation further compounded by the alleged large number of political aides in his government, many aides disengaged from the Presidency after the defeat of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 have and those recruited since 2015 have been given appointments.
The paucity of funds to execute projects lies at the heart of a recent N7.9 billion loan request to the State legislature for approval.
According to the letter, Okowa said there was urgent need for the state government to support some of its road contractors, in accessing financing to aid accelerated execution of critical projects before the onset of the rainy season.
Okowa said the request had become expedient considering the almost N3 billion drop in Federation Accounts receipt in January 2009 when compared to December 2018, which had hindered planned disbursement to the contractors.
He said most of the contractors were already on site and have generated payment certificate for works already executed, which were yet to be defrayed.
The governor said the funds were required to make progress in project execution, adding that the state executive council at its meeting of February 5, 2019, considered and approved that the state government should support certain contractors for the state’s critical priority projects.
What can be gleaned from the communication between the executive and legislature is the anaemic state of the state’s finances. A shortfall in the Federation Account receipts creates budgetary distortions in the State.
Oghenejakporjabor Ikimi, National Coordinator, Center for the Vulnerable and Under Privileged (CENTREP), called for a reduction in the size of government, adding that the large number of political aides constitutes a drain on state finances.
His words: ”I see paucity of funds as the major challenge facing Gov Okowa in his second tenure. And so I will advice that the size of his government be reduced. The State may not be able to afford a large executive council. How can Okowa justify hiring over 5000 political aides when the Delta state judiciary lacks judges? It so bad that a judge in Delta is assigned two or three divisions. I speak from the vantage position of a lawyer who daily goes to court.”
To tackle paucity of funds, Ikimi suggested the sack of tax consultants, arguing that Delta Board of Internal Revenue (DBIR) is a specialised agency best equipped to deal with taxation in the state.
He said that the Delta State government is violating state laws by appointing agents to assess and collect taxes of citisens in behalf of government.
In 2017, the activist won judgement against Delta State Government on the use of tax consultants at a Delta High Court,Otor-Udu, Udu L.G.A. Although the matter has been appealed by government.
He said: ”I took the Delta government to court over appointment of private tax collectors. It is wrong for a private person to collect tax on behalf of government. Infact, it is an offence that attracts a three year jail term and a N50,000 fine. I took the State to court but rather than allowing DBIR to collect taxes they went on appeal. If government insists on using private tax collectors, I will advise they operate under the revenue board as agents or employees. Many of the taxes collected are not accounted for. Government does not know how has been assessed or how much is due them (government) as commission. If government is serious about meeting it’s funding challenge, it must allow the DBIR to function professionally and we will see a rise in IGR”.
There is growing discontent over alleged lopsidedness in appointments and infrastructure by government allegedly in favour of Anioma areas and his Ika kinsmen, in particular.
In other words, for Okowa, the imperatives of balancing the expectations of the various ethnic groups in projects allocation and appointments is key to a successful second tenure in office.
Reacting to the allegations, Ikimi blamed Okowa for continuing an undesirable trend started by Ibori and perpetuated by his successor Uduaghan.
He said: ”This is our brand of politics. This shows our level of development politically. It has always been like that. When Ibori was in power he concentrated development in Oghara, his hometown. Uduaghan did the same thing in Abigborodo, someday the while will become developed. We do not know where the next governor after Okowa might have left office.”