By Jérôme-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Recently, this author has seen people (Deltans and non-Deltans) claiming that the success of the administration of Delta State Governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa, especially in developing infrastructure and promoting education technique in the state, eclipsed that of its predecessors. .
These efforts on the part of the Governor contributed significantly to why Delta State was ranked the best state in human capital development in the 2017 Peer Review of States by the National Council of Nigeria’s competitiveness, as well as in 2020.
It is also responsible for why Delta, as a state, was ranked the second least poor state, after Lagos, the business hub of Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Despite the validity of the above statements, I have also in this time frame, observed critics argue but barely that Delta is a small state, oil producer, and, therefore, can achieve its goals and record easily developments. That the success recorded so far 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 among other things in a recent article noted that the ongoing development in Delta State is tellingly vindicating the popular belief that leaders’ creative concepts can bring aspects to the both disruptive and constructive; coupled with the ability to break established thought patterns, can threaten the status quo or, at the very least, stoke people’s anxieties.
While noting that Okowa has demonstrated over the past six years that strategic success cannot be reduced to a formula, nor can one become a strategic thinker by reading a book, but by constantly demonstrating competence, connection and character, the article argued that if one had visited the coastal areas of Delta State prior to May 29, 2015, to date, he/she may have concluded that the area was a place that apparently never heard of civilization.
But under Governor Okowa’s administration, people are beginning to realize that education and the development of an area’s infrastructure are the best tools for shaping people’s futures, not devices for the exclusive privileged few.
Of all the reactions/comments received, one particular from a so-called coastal dweller seems to stand out as it was a positive reaction with a dash of agenda.
Basically, he was partly reading; Okowa has hijacked the age-old excuse of previous administrations that the coastal region cannot be developed because the terrain is swampy – a feature that makes construction difficult, if not impossible, can no longer be sustained, this particular reader/respondent appreciated the Governor for the level of good/internal road networks and other infrastructural developments – an achievement which he said qualifies the Governor as the first to give a sense of place to the people of the region.
He however concluded that for the Governor to finish strong he would have to construct road networks which will link Warri to Escravos Terminals in the Warri South West Local Council area of the Delta and another from Escravos to the Forcados Terminal in Burutu Local Government Area as well as completing the Ayakoromo Bridge to connect communities in Ughelli South and Burutu Council Areas.
Specifically, a closer analysis of his comment reveals that while the first part of his comment acts as a morale booster for the state governor, the second part is the request for the construction of road networks that will connect Warri to the Escravos terminals in Warri South- The west area of Delta local council and another from Escravos to the Forcados terminal in Burutu local government area, as well as the complete Ayakoromo bridge to connect communities in Ughelli South and Burutu council areas, perform the agenda-setting function for the state governor and his team.
Continuing, he said the bridge project has been dragging on for a very long time after being awarded by the now defunct Emmanuel Udughan administration. The project has indeed imposed on itself an extremely important responsibility and destiny; to complete this process of socio-economic rejuvenation of the local populations which the State has taken too long to tackle.
Like the Bomadi Bridge which was executed by the administration of Chief James Onanefe Ibori, linking three local government areas (Burutu, Ughele and Patani), likewise the Ayakoromo Bridge by comments, when completed, promises to promote the socio-economic life and welfare of Deltans living in more than four local governments in the state.
Take, for illustration, the community of Bobougbene and its surroundings are famous for producing palm oil in commercial quantities and supplying the metropolis of Warri and the markets of Okwuagbe in South Ugheli. Once completed, the bridge will provide easy access to these markets. More so, it will open up the majority of communities that do not yet have access to the “highlands”.
In terms of reputation, there is more reason to applaud Governor Okowa’s efforts in this direction. A leader’s image is said to be an amalgamation of various factors, and followers should periodically evaluate these perceived factors to determine whether they are in a positive or negative light.
In particular, an image is able to say much more about a leader than any of his long speeches and verbal statements and once established, the image not only becomes the image of the leader but remains very enduring.
Even though this is being internalized, there is yet another area of concern that I believe needs urgent attention in the coastal zone of the state. It is about bringing primary and secondary schools closer to communities in the coastal/river communities of the state.
Just recently, I listened with particular attention to King Monday Whisky, Udurhie I, the Ovie of the kingdom of Iderhe, talking about the challenges children in his kingdom face in accessing education.
King Whisky, who was speaking in Lagos, among other things lamented that children in the Niger Delta must reach the age of 12 before starting primary because it is only at this age that children can be able to successfully paddle their boat to the other side. of the community where their school is located.
In such a case, says Damilola Adeparua, 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 that boys can be allowed to paddle, so it will take a supernatural 12 year old girl to start at that age. This makes possible the global statistics that only 39% of rural girls attend secondary school, which is much lower than that of rural boys, which is 45%, compared to urban girls, who are at 59% and 60% urban boys.
Some of the girls who even live in communities that have access to free education and whose schools are located in places where it is accessible are denied their right to education for religious reasons, while others are hindered by poverty.
The problem of child education deprivation is not limited to girls, as UNICEF asserts that one in five out-of-school children in the world are in Nigeria.
Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, around 10.5 million children in the country between the ages of 5 and 14 are out of school. Only 61% of 6-11 year olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6% of children aged 36-59 months receive pre-school education. Delta State, especially people in coastal communities, are in my view not immune to this challenge.
The reason the state needs to act urgently on this new awareness is that school being far or close to home, experts say, definitely affects the student in many ways.
For students living far from school, long daily commutes are physically and mentally tiring and therefore it is more difficult to concentrate on studies after returning home. Their lifestyle is usually more hectic because of travel. Most, if not all school-related events take place near the school, so the student must also travel to attend.
Comparatively, those who live closer to school are generally better connected to school and its events because most, if not all school-related events take place near school. And because of the small distance, they are more up to date with that.
In addition, a maximum of students who attend a particular school live near it, so they are better connected to each other compared to people who live outside and therefore tend to have more contact. and more connections. They are also more likely to become popular at school because they know a lot of people. They are also mentally more relaxed because they have plenty of free time and they don’t necessarily have to deal with commuting.
The UNICEF survey says otherwise; there are still a large number of those who are in school but do not learn anything, noting that school does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more out-of-school learners than out-of-school, he concluded.
Certainly, while the people of the region seem assured of making an increasing contribution to the development of the state since a handful of them can now afford the luxury of education and access to good amenities , it is clear with hindsight that the Governor tackled these challenges before handing over to the administration yet to be identified by 2023.
Achieving this feat will make people in the area feel like they have a Governor who not only cares, but acts as a technique to help people understand the Governor’s vision.
Most importantly, the state must pay attention to the region’s current challenges, as development professionals warn that preparing for the future involves, above all, training our young citizens to lead the development process, driven by a sense of their absolute duty to maintain our economic development. This will encourage them to put their dynamic potential at the service of our society.
Indeed, the state is teeming with young talent and it is the responsibility of every sector of society to nurture them. This can only be done through proper education, training, support and encouragement; and seeking out particular skills and talents, while encouraging creative endeavours.
Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be contacted via [email protected]/08032725374