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Uduaghan: The Man Gearing for Niger Delta Development

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Uduaghan: The Man Gearing for Niger Delta Development

By Julius Akpovire Enyeh

There are politicians and there are politicians. In Delta State, they also abound in different shades and characters, so much so that if awards were to be doled out today, there would be a lot of pretenders amongst them as far as the development of the Big Heart State is concerned. Inversely, a few contenders would line up for the awards based on their selfless contributions which have made the state worthy of being counted among the ‘big’ states.

The immediate-past governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, is arguably one of the most successful politicians the Niger Delta has produced in recent times. His influence and popularity were not earned through a walk in the park, rather by the dint of his determination to make his people happy. His story is a very loaded one, his development efforts also extended to the Niger Delta region even though he was the governor of a state. He was deeply involved in negotiations with Niger Delta agitators and militants alike which let to peace in the region. Of course, where there is peace, there is development.

If one counts every infrastructure dotted all over the state, a greater percentage of them would definitely bear his finger of approval.

That is the lot of a man who was trusted enough by the former governor of the state, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, a big fish in all ramifications, to wear his big shoes as the governor of the state after the former had governed for eight years.

A medical doctor by profession, Dr. Uduaghan set the sail of healthcare revolution in the state when he took over. Deltans will not forget Uduaghan in a hurry for instituting a special project to finance medical assistance to them. To date, the sum of N1.4 billion has been expended on the project and it has been worth the while.

He also embarked on health programmes as the Free Under-Five health programme where all the children within the age bracket of 0-5years were taken care of irrespective of the ailment. The Free Maternal Health programme which enabled government hospitals attend to pregnant and expectant mothers from conception to the period of delivery free of charge remains in their memory till date. It was once reported that the antenatal care unit of each hospital was recording up to 200 to 400 attendants on daily basis. The hospitals were made to handle serious advocacy issues on care during pregnancy aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality.

On the Free Rural Health Scheme programme, the government of Delta State under Uguaghan attended to the rural people in all parts of the state, treating various health needs of the people irrespective of the nature of the ailment free of charge. The scheme cut across all ages and sexes as issues bordering on fibroid, hymenia, partial blindness and other sundry health challenges were tackled by health care professionals.

This magnanimous gesture of his government brought succour to people who ordinarily would not have been able to access the needed medical attention.

If Uduaghan did well in health care delivery, he scored higher in the educational sector.  Aside from ensuring the fees of all students sitting for the secondary school final examinations were paid full, a policy he underpinned by the observation that some students even after going through the free school programme, were unable to pay the fees required before they could sit for NECO and WASC examinations, he blazed the trail with the state government’s First Class Scholarship Scheme under which indigenes of the state, paternally or maternally, who made first class in any university were offered an annual N5 million scholarship to study for higher degrees up to PhD anywhere in the world. In four years, his government provided scholarships to 1,760 students in different categories. His government also approved scholarship for 792 students in all the categories and inaugurated the Delta Education Marshall (Edu Marshall) to eradicate ‘street culture’ and pave way for ‘learning culture’

Fully aware of his target in the education sector Uduaghan had said the huge investment in education had a lot to do with the ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ initiative of his administration. For anything to succeed, he had said, the bedrock is education, and one cannot be talking about ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ the populace was not educated.  Under Uduaghan, primary and secondary schools witnessed a new lease of life in the state with the construction or rehabilitation of over 200 primary and secondary schools.

There is no argument that Dr. Uduaghan achieved so much in the area of infrastructure, housing scheme, roads construction, street lights and provision of modern transport facilities and hospitals, a phenomenon which has made Delta catapult into an enviable state.

What has, however baffled a lot of political watchers within the country and beyond, was why an achiever like Dr. Uduaghan went into hibernation after serving out a meritorious gubernatorial period despite pressure from his people when a lot of his under-achieving colleagues found themselves in the chambers of the National Assembly Complex, Abuja. When he addressed pressmen recently, the Itsekiri-born politician answered the question. He had said he took that option in the interest of peace in the state.

Delta South Senatorial District boasts of equally great minds like the ex-governor, one which is the incumbent senator who has represented the senatorial district through four terms of four years each.

By 2019, the senator, James Manager would have served a total of 16 years in the house. In 2015, when he indicated his intention to return to the senate, the ex-governor had rested his ambition to pave way for Mr. Manager to continue. Now, the pressure has again mounted on Dr. Uduaghan to gun for the senatorial seat and he has said he is ready. Surprisingly, support has poured in from the whole Delta South and beyond.

According to Dr. Uduaghan, his senatorial ambition is born out of his desire to pursue quality legislation that will lead to the end of crisis and development in the Niger Delta region.

In his words: “I’m not going to the Senate because I am Itsekiri. My aspiration is not ethnic but knowledge and capacity based.”

“We need to look at laws that’ll improve income accruing to oil-bearing communities. There should be a law that compels every company operating in the Niger Delta region to contribute a percentage to the host communities. This is done in Arizona and the Netherlands. Ours, here, should not be an exception.”

“And to ensure a near absolute peace and security in the Niger Delta, local youths should be engaged to assist security men in intelligence gathering; through this, we’ll be able to reduce a lot of criminal activities in the creeks.” Uduaghan noted.

As the 2019 elections draw closer and closer, all eyes are on the man with excellent track records who thinks, sleeps and wakes up with the peace and development of the Niger Delta in his mind.

Julius Akpovire Enyeh, a Delta-born journalist, writes from Lagos, Nigeria and may be reached via his email, mailjuliusenyeh@gmail.com

Modupe Gbadeyanka is a fast-rising journalist with Business Post Nigeria. Her passion for journalism is amazing. She is willing to learn more with a view to becoming one of the best pen-pushers in Nigeria. Her role models are the duo of CNN's Richard Quest and Christiane Amanpour.

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Making Trade Easier for Africa’s Youthful Population

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SMEs

By Adedayo Oluwafemi

The youth are spearheading a lot of change initiatives not only in Nigeria but also across Africa.

The world’s population is estimated to hit 10 billion people by 2055. It’s projected that Africa will account for 57% of the growth at about 1.4 billion people. With Africa’s youthful population growing there is a growing need to ensure that the youth are well resourced.

If harnessed, the creativity and innovation of the huge youthful population can play a key role in Africa’s economic transformation.

Across the continent, the informal sector has provided a major source of employment for many youths. The majority of them are in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) space. This resort to informality is due to the need to explore available opportunities and earn a living. SMEs in Africa have proven to be key drivers of growth, innovation development and job creation.

A vibrant SME segment provides a strong foundation for development, increased standards of living and poverty reduction.

Sadly, the challenges with facilitating trade, especially among SMEs are well known. They include fragmentation, market access, operational and administrative inefficiencies and in some cases, bureaucratic delays.

Limited access to financing or capital, inadequate capacity to keep proper inventory, limited storage options, inequitable distribution channels and other infrastructural gaps have also bedevilled SMEs. The question then arises, how do we leapfrog and make trade easier for young Africans?

The digital economy has positively influenced the SME space. For many Africans, technology has radically transformed the core of how we live, move and experience life.

Imagine being able to move goods from one point to the other at the touch of a button whereas in the past, you’d probably be waiting on a messenger at work to help you deliver them or physically walk many miles to the nearest post office or delivery service provider to send them. Today, the digital economy has offered young Africans an opportunity to trade easier locally or internationally through opening up opportunities.

Combining the power of tech and the ease of doing business that platforms like Sendy, a tech company that is building a fulfilment infrastructure for e-commerce and consumer brands, provides, SMEs are set to thrive.

Sendy makes it easier for trade to happen – enabling sellers and retailers to sell more and grow. When trade is enhanced and the impediments around financing, warehousing, managing inventory and logistics management have been removed, productivity goes up, more jobs are created, customers and happy and young business owners can trade efficiently and grow their businesses

If we are seriously looking to drive larger participation for young people in trade and commercial activities, we must encourage uptake in the use of digital assets that technology avails us. Africa’s future looks bright and promising, we now need to fully embrace digitization in the SME space in order to spur growth and development.

Adedayo Oluwafemi is a Lagos-based SME consultant and growth hacker

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Widows’ World and the Catalysts for a New Order

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delta state widows

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

That their surnames (Okowa and Okonta) sound similar and familiar could be enough incentive for one to hastily allege the existence of a biological family line. But in the actual sense of it, this particular occurrence was but a sheer coincidence or betters still, a natural order of things.

As we know, Governor Ifeanyi Ekumeme of Delta State hails from Owa Alero, Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta State. He is the first Anioma son to lead the state. Anioma, designated Delta North Senatorial district, means the ‘good land’ with 9 local government areas. The area is Igbo speaking and blessed with a population of about 2 million, excluding her diasporic communities.

Also, going by information in the public domain, Dr Isioma Okonta, on his part, is the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor on Social Investment Programmes and State Coordinator Widows Welfare Scheme. He is from Abavo, Ika South Local Government Area of the state.

Despite this distinctiveness, there exist also big similarities. Aside from the fact that they typify the proverbial saying like minds that think alike, particularly in the areas of human capital development, and belong to the same political family with Okowa occupying the political father figure and Okonta, the son, they are social investors. In them, passion met efficiency and commitment.

Historically also, they are both Ika indigenes.

Quoting Emeka Esogbue, scholar, Anioma Historian and author of over four books on Anioma contemporary history/conversations, the name Ika was widely used to describe the whole of the area that we know as ‘Anioma’ and was made to appear in the compound word of ‘Ika Ibo”. Nevertheless, within time, the name Ika became narrowed down and limited to the present people of the Ika that it describes today.

Further demonstrating their resemblance is the new awareness that both have an unalloyed passion for improving the life chances of the poor and the vulnerable in the state. It was in fact, this ceaseless effort to bring succour to the widows and valuable people in the state that explains why the Governor created the Office for Social Investment Programmes/Widows Welfare Scheme. And to achieve this objective, he, in his wisdom, appointed Dr Isioma Okonta, as the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Social Investment Programmes and State Coordinator Widows Welfare.

Today, following the success of this office, stakeholders in the state are not only in agreement that the state government has performed the traditional but universal responsibility of provision of economic and infrastructural succour to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confers on them, as well as gone extra miles to touch the untouchable.

The passionate praise, by participants at a recent one-day conference in the state, showered on the state government and plea for government-private sector collaboration for sustainable development of this programme underscores this assertion.

Essentially, they were unanimous that the widows’ project in the state remains a right step taken in the right direction and calls for sustainable partnership and collaboration among all development-focused organisations/institutions. It was clearly stated that the scale and ambition of this agenda call for smart partnerships, collaborations, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society. The conference was jointly organised by the state government as part of programmes lined up to celebrate International Widows Day 2022 in the state.

Different speakers present at the event brought to the fore the urgent need for all to appreciate as well as support the state government’s efforts in this direction. They called for creative and innovative thinking by all strata of the society-public and private sector and civil society to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth and social development of the poor and the vulnerable in the state and beyond.

They concluded that the state under Governor Okowa’s administration has dropped Delta State from a point where the roads are not pliable to a point where there is a massive construction of roads everywhere. He has touched the youths in Delta State through several programmes. ‘He has made sure that programmes for the girl child have emanated in Delta State where the girl child is no longer dependent on her parents. Business opportunities have been provided for them. Okowa has made sure that there is peace in all those areas. He has done well’.

Making this development a reality to celebrate, they stated, is the fact that this is happening in the state, even when widows across the world going to the United Nations, are invisible in society. They are scattered across the globe, owing to their condition and the enormous challenges, reproach and shame the majority of them are undergoing. For widows to secure expectations by keeping their hopes alive by way of feeding, providing accommodation and qualitative education for their children, they must assume the position of their dead husband who happened to be the breadwinner.

Indeed, looking at the content of the welcome address by Elder Okonta, during the Seminar organized by his office in conjunction with the state government to mark this year, 2022, international world widows day, it is obvious that the United Nation and of course relevant stakeholders in the state may not be wrong in their opinion about the Governor’s performance in this direction.

In that speech, Okonta said; The Governor of Delta State has taken important measures at taking care of the most vulnerable in our society. The most notable of these measures is the widows’ welfare scheme. The Delta State Governor created the widows’ welfare scheme in the year 2018 aimed at alleviating the suffering of the very poor and vulnerable widows in the state. The governor has established an enduring structure that administers the payment of stipends monthly to these widows.

As from having the state coordinator, Okonta stressed that the structure set up by the Governor, also has 3 Senatorial Supervisors, 6 Assistant Senatorial Supervisors, monitors\ aides for the Federal Constituencies and 2 coordinators in each of the 25 Local Government Areas as members of his team. These coordinators are saddled with the responsibilities of administering the affairs of the enrolled widows at the L.G.A. levels. It is pertinent to note that Delta State is the only state out of the 36 states in the Federal Republic of Nigeria running this unique programme.

The widows’ welfare scheme, he explained is non-political and it cuts across religious divides. Although the names of the widows enrolled in this programme were derived from a list collated and verified by the community leaders, religious leaders, civic leaders and traditional rulers and institutions, however, today there is an electronic database of widows that were registered and enumerated by the Consultant, Mr Clive Amuta, MD of Verschoesk Consult and Integrated Services Ltd. This database has over 50,000 widows and is currently part of the state social register.

Only the verified poor and vulnerable widows residing in Delta State are enrolled in the scheme.

A widow who is a civil servant or financially stable is not eligible. Currently, there are 5607 widows enrolled in the delta state widow’s welfare scheme. These windows have been benefitting from the scheme since 2018. The widows enrolled are predominantly aged, illiterate and have difficulties with financial independence. They are drawn from the 25 local government areas of the state and the 270 wards across the communities. The widows receive N5,000 as stipends and free health care services carried out by the Delta State Contributory Health Commission.

The widows, he observed, can access health care benefits through accredited hospitals and primary health care centres in their localities. These poor and vulnerable widows can also undergo surgical operations at accredited health facilities, free of charge.

Because the Governor has the economic interest of these indigent widows at heart, the state government through the office of the widow’s welfare scheme has distributed 900 melon shelling machines and generating sets to some widows in the three senatorial districts of the state to empower these vulnerable widows to be financially independent. While showing appreciation to the Governor, Okonta finally announced to the gathering that the governor has graciously approved the purchase of Stater packs for about 500 widows in the 25 L.G.As of Delta State.

Today, the state is witnessing a new frontier in Social Investment Programmes. His Excellency the Governor has also approved that 5500 Widows that have been enumerated and data captured as part of the Widows welfare database should be enrolled in the widows’ welfare scheme for the monthly payment of stipends and access to free health care. This will bring the total number of widows enrolled in the scheme for payment to 11107.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374

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VP Slot: SMBLF, Okowa’s Decision and Our Nation

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SMBLF

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

One of the major booby traps placed on Nigeria’s political route to a hyper-modern nation that will require masterly innovative/creative strategies to waltz through is the fact that each time electioneering season approaches in the country, the issue of where the presidential candidate and his running mate come from takes the centre stage instead of the capacity of the candidates to perform. More often than not, it is usually between the North and the South.

Take, for instance, on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, Ango Abdullahi, a professor and secretary of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), addressed a press conference where he, among other things, stated that it was time for the North to take back the presidency.

He said: “I want to make it absolutely clear to you that the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and all these other groups that have emerged in the recent past are committed to the interest that underlines Northern interest.”

Before the dust raised by such comments about 9 years ago could settle, another that qualifies more as something new and different recently came up. This time around, it was generated by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) via a statement jointly signed by Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, leader of SMBLF/PANDEF; Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere; Pogu Bitrus, President-General of Middle Belt Forum; and Prof George Obiozor, President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.

The group in that statement berated the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, for accepting his nomination as the vice-presidential candidate to Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.

The statement said in part, “It is unspeakable and quite disappointing that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who is currently Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, and a native of Owa-Alero in Ika North-East Local Government Area (one of the Igbo-speaking areas) of Delta State, would exhibit such barefaced unreliability. It bears recalling that the 17 Governors of the Southern States of Nigeria, both of the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC), under the chairmanship of the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, met in Asaba, the capital of Delta State on May 11, 2021, and took far-reaching decisions, including that, based on the principles of fairness, equity and justice, the presidency should rotate to the south at the end of the statutory eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure. And this very Governor Okowa was the host of that historic meeting.”

Taken peripherally, no sane Nigerian will listen to this concern expressed by these fine groups/elders, without throwing his/her weight behind them particularly, as their analysis in the present circumstance appears as an objective concern.

However, there are also, in the opinion of this piece, reasons for concern this time around that what we are experiencing may no longer be the first half of a recurring circle but rather, the beginning of something new and dangerous. For one thing, if this ideology which openly qualifies as a war against our nation-building quest is not arrested, I predict that it will last for the rest of our lives.

To support the above assertion, this piece will highlight the errors as well as spread out the particulars that render an assault on reason, the latest declaration by SMBLF.

First, as rightly observed by the group, the meeting and decisions reached in Asaba by the Southern governors were applauded by all, given its significant representation and the gravity of the outcome. That fact notwithstanding, one point the association failed to remember is that we live in a country where the supremacy of political parties is in full operation.

Viewed from this prism, an important distinction to make is that decisions by political parties on issues such as this (zoning/power shift) stand superior to that of the umbrella association called the Southern Governors Forum.

Political parties as we know are not just another platform that can be controlled at will. Rather, it is a platform for pursuing policy objectives and decentralized creation and distribution of ideas. Just the same way the government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the people’s life chances, even so, is political parties a platform, for the formulation of policies that every member/politician must not vilify but partner with- PDP not an exception.

From the above flows another vital point that Nigerians, of course, SMBLF, need to understand and appreciate. It was the party (PDP) and not Governor Okowa or any other Governor that jettisoned the power rotation arrangement.

Following the party’s decision, a presidential primary was a while ago conducted in Abuja, where Atiku Abubakar emerged as the party’s presidential standard-bearer and as part of the nation’s political requirements and in the spirit of justice, equity and fairness must pick a candidate of southern extraction as his running mate.

Going by the above, it can no longer hold water the argument that Okowa betrayed the trust reposed on him by his colleagues; the southern governors, the entire good people of southern Nigeria and all well-meaning Nigerians, and has made himself persona non grata, not only, with SMBLF but all citizens who treasure our oneness and hopes of a more united and peaceful Nigeria.

This piece also views as draconian the group’s declaration that they cautioned political stakeholders from the South, including serving and former governors, ministers, senators, etcetera, not to, on any account, allow themselves to be appointed or nominated as running mate to any presidential candidate, if the presidency is not zoned to the south and that we will work against such person or persons.

If the above directive was allowed to fly, it will further elicit the following questions; what becomes the fate of citizens’ freedom of expression and expression enshrined in the nation’s 1999 constitution as amended? How come it took these elders this long a time to come up with this asymmetrical position even when it was obvious that the party’s standard-bearer indicated his intention to pick a southern over a week ago? Why didn’t they raise an objection at a time when the names of three southern governors were pencilled down for the position? Could they have been ignorant of such developments? Why is it that such a vanguard/threat is coming at a time when Governor Okowa was finally picked as the preferred candidate?

Why is the group coming up with such an argument laced in sentiment and coming at a time when the country has never been as divided as we are today or witnessed such magnitude of mistrust of ourselves and of our nation? Why must we promote such a position in a season when no nation-best typifies a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various socio-political groups than Nigeria as myriads of socio-political contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace?  Why must we continue to think along these deformed political, ethnic and religious divides against considerations such as merit and leadership competencies?

Must we continue to live in a disunited Nigeria as well as fail the future generation by leaving them a nation more diminished when compared with what we inherited from our forbearers? As Okowa rightly argued, could we have expected that Atiku would be the candidate from the North and also have a vice-presidential candidate from the North? Will that not have led to further division?

While answers to the above are being expected, this is what this piece proposes; ethnicity, religion and all the other primordial sentiments which our elders have whipped up in the past to sway the choices of the people during election times must be hurriedly discarded as we prepare for the 2023 general election so that credible and competent leaders may rule the nation and advance our democracy.

Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Politics) for Advocacy for Social and Economic Justice (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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