WRITTEN BY CHARLES ADINGUPU
I have often ignored debates on vexed issue of the under-development of the oil- rich Delta State whenever it crops up, with a mere wave of the hand. The reason for my silence, is personal and close to my chest. But recent unpleasant developments have combined to arouse that dying part of me. I recalled with nostalgia the outbursts that trailed the creation of the state alongside others by the then General Ibrahim Babagida-led administration, in response to assuage the perceived marginalization of majority of people in different regions. That singular effort was misjudged, mis-represented and in extreme cases, politicized in certain quarters; it was indeed a mixed grill of feelings within different ethnic groups that make up the present Delta State.
In Delta South, the Itsekiris whose failed clamour for coast state had their way, while the Urohobo with other ethnic extractions like Isoko and Ijaw who agitated for Delta had their say. After days, weeks and months of murmuring, elders of the various ethnic groups eventually sued for peace, cohesion and unity. However, above all, indigenes of the sate believed that in spite of their dissatisfaction, that its creation was truly an extrication from perceived marginalization and would provide a wide vista for human capital growth and socio-economic development. Ironically, the celebration that heralded the creation of Delta state was more like a bath of palm-wine on an incipient measles which brought all the ugly rashes to the surface. The people became more divided than ever before. A dawn of dangerous ethnic nationalism overran the envisaged development of the different regions. More divided, the people of Delta State became!
Already, some Deltans were aggrieved that the location of the state capital, Asaba was an aberration and insult to the collective intelligence of some ethnic groups. And in their bitterness, vowed to ensure its continued under-development. Crisis upon crisis, Asaba, almost twenty five years after as capital of Delta state, laid fallow.
The subsequent emergence of the now late Olorogun Felix Ibru as the first civilian Governor of the state ignited the under-development process of the state. For the years he was on the saddle, nothing concrete was achieved, rather than a perceived master plan of a capital city on paper. Again, the military second coming into Nigeria politics at that time left a sour taste in the mouth of many Deltans. It witnessed the sudden emergence of the then Colonel Kefas as the military administrator of Delta State. Everybody knew the havoc wrecked by military administrators in the past and there is no gainsaying that Delta state was worst hit.
On the exit of the military from politics, fruitless attempts by successive civilian governors enthroned by supposedly constitutional democracy to build a befitting capital worthy of an oil rich state, sadly, yielded no appreciable result. Today, the state capital, Asaba is no better than a glorified local government headquarter. Though, pockets of seasonal roads were constructed with most of them already craving in by the two past successive democratically elected governors of Chief James Ibori and his cousin, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. This further elicited the debate over the continuing under-development of Asaba in particular and the state at large. Accordingly, most Deltans were of the opinion that two of governors, Ibori and Uduaghan were only acting the scripts of their ethnic groups who in the immediate past on the creation of the state vowed to truncate the development of the state capital. For them, Asaba is a political contraption exclusively for the Anioma people. Therefore, any attempt to see its development would invariably mean developing Anioma territory with their oil money. These parochial stance still hold sway till date in many quarters. The same fate that befell the state in the dark days of the military regime still pervades the entire landscape notwithstanding the emergence of Dr. IfeanyiOkowa of Anioma extraction on the saddle.
However, certain things need to be made clear among the people commonly referred to as Anioma. The monkey and gorilla may claim oneness, but the monkey is monkey and the gorilla is gorilla. In similar vein, the Ika man would hate to claim oneness with the Oshmili or Aniochia man. Neither would the Kwale or Ndokwa man want to be counted as brother to an Ika man. This dilemma of the Anioma people has further exposed this political reality. However, I must hail Dr. Ifeany Okowa, an Ika man for his second electoral victory as governor of a multi-ethnic Delta. As Booker said, success is not measured by the height one attains but by the obstacles he overcomes. Though, some political pundits may argue that his victory at the poll was not based on his popularity but mainly due to the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) arrangement of “turn by turn”.
Nevertheless, I must make bold to declare unequivocally that elections the world over, particularly in Delta state, is not an afternoon athletic contest that one would walk away from and forget about it in a couple of hours. In this regard, I would not hesitate to applaud the doggedness demonstrated by this bold offspring of Ika extraction from Delta north to mount the podium of leadership in the state.
I know from my own experience that the people of Delta State are not ordinary human-beings with prejudice and fears, but with intelligence and a great longing to improve their positions and welfare. With patience and understanding, people can be led into a better land and the Canaan of their dreams. But they can easily fight back if you attempt to push them faster than they want to go.
However, I do not by any means put the blame of the continuing under-development of Asaba in particular, and Delta State at large on ethnic parochialism or primordial sentiments. But from the tip of my fragile fingers, I could recall effortlessly and vividly too without diving into the archives of history, how immediate past civilian governors of the state were forced to carry out a system that sets them in opposition to the very people they are supposed to guide with fatherly hands. Just few weeks ago, I saw on the pages of newspapers the gold rimmed spectacle Governor Okowa celebrating his 60th birthday. I was amazed how political jobbers, contract seekers and party loyalists fell on one another to wish the Governor a happy birthday. Though for anyone familiar with the daily happenings in the state, one would assume that the burden of the state, coupled with the long years of deprivation and neglect of the people may dampen the spirit of celebration by the governor in whatever guise.
Today most of us frowning against the snail peace of development in the state despite the huge federal allocation and internally generated revenue annually are yet to see Dr. Okowa’s footprint in the development scheme of Delta. Aside from gutters dug in virtually every nook and crannies of Asaba, there seems to be nothing concrete to show as democratic dividends for the people of Delta state. It would appear that in each passing day, Governor Okowa’s penchant to “Ikalise” his administration gains momentum. He has demonstrated this in many ways that the Ika people are not one with other Igbo speaking people of Delta state, commonly referred to as Anioma. He threw caution to the wind, when in his recent list of appointment of officers and commissioners, we saw the recycling of old and tired politicians emerging as commissioners and being appointed to oversee sensitive portfolios. I was shocked when I heard that the new Secretary to the Government is from his Ika ethnic stock. This is one aberration too many. Though, we do know that this “turn by turn” adopted system of democracy by the PDP does mean well for the people but those who are wise enough were able to make better use of their “God given opportunity” to develop their community and people. The Ika people have had a swell time as most of the link roads in their communities are now wearing new looks, even as Ika dialect has been advertently adopted as the official language in Government House, Asaba
All these actions exhibited by Governor Okowa further complicate the already complex political stratification of democracy in Delta. The Aniochia and Oshimili people must begin to agitate for their turn to govern the state in order to develop their area as well. The Isoko people who hate to be referred to as Urohobos had perfected plans to go solo.
As a matter of urgency, Governor Okowa must endeavour to close the gap in his administration. His second coming must be an opportunity for him to consolidate on the gains of past achievements. He must eschew ethnic chauvinism and strive to build an all- inclusive government. Delta people and Anioma in particular, want to see flyover bridges constructed in Asaba and environs. At least, this would put us at par with neighbouring states. The Governor should focus on the building of agro-industries and other plants in order to realize the Delta beyond oil of our dream. All these require the diligent implementation of the Nkwame Nkrumah’s three S’s- Service, Sacrifice and Suffering. Nothing can be achieved anywhere without entrenching a near perfect system in place.