By Norbert Chiazor
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State has a stereotyped image- mellow media shy personage.That is where the puzzle begins.
The perception in the public eye beggars belief.How come a man who speaks rarely sounds the loudest? Why is a man less forward to hug the cameras always the cynosure of attention?
From party to people,the name Okowa has been resonating for years, reaching crescendo, since December 8 ,2014, when the PDP Returning Officer, Hon. Karim Sunday Steve, called him 406 times to declare the medical doctor winner of Delta gubernatorial primary, paving the way for his emergence as Governor on May 29th 2015.
In party politics and comity of Governors, he bears the toga of official mascot unsolicited. He takes the lead in PDP critical affairs and conventions.
He acts as a bipartisan pathfinder in the guber cycle, when Nigeria tethers on the brink of insecurity and unprecedented socio – political difficulties.He does these and more without drama but with deep resonance, stirring earth shaking ripples.
Today,the man who is not presumed a frontline authority figure has been making headlines and front pages of the mainstream press, especially since the now famous Asaba declaration of Southern Governors on restructuring and true federalism.
Then he gave Deltans something serious to ponder when he proclaimed at a recent empowerment gathering that the state needs a governor come 2023, who will see Asaba as home and remember Anioma people in a pan-Delta spirit of fairness.
That was the curtain raiser to Okowa’s 2023 Delta governorship roadmap,until he met with a horde of anxious journalists at Government House on Wednesday 19th May 2021.
Dressed in milky dapper native ensemble and vintage eye glasses, he addressed the press and set a thorough going agenda on the power rotation question in Delta.He delivered his thoughts in spontaneity with witty unscripted decibel:
“There was no formal meeting where a gentleman agreement was reached and that is the truth as at today”, he said.
“ It is only God Almighty that knows who will be governor after me.
“You will hear a lot more things just as they said I want to handover to an Ijaw man; I don’t think that I have the strength to play God.
“But as I said, at some point in time as a political party, because I can only speak for my party, we will sit down to look at issues to find out what truly will be fair, what truly will be justified and what should equity really mean.”
Raging debates have trailed Okowa’s soundbites as Deltans and bystanders, loyalists and opposition read varied meanings to his viewpoints.
What Okowa never said. In amplifying the place of Asaba in Delta, the Governor was not playing the ethnic card.The first elected Delta governor from Anioma meant that Asaba should continue to gain relevance after his tenure.That is neither misplaced nor incongruous to demand.His counsel was not an expression of favouritism but affirmation of truth. After all there is only one state capital in Delta, Asaba .Isn’t it?
He never said or implied that other cities in the state should stand still while Asaba moves, developing and growing.His frank talk on Asaba is akin to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos making case for Ikeja Capital or Godwin Obaseki, Edo canvassing the development of Benin city. What is there to attach sentiments? Is that nepotism? Won’t it be irresponsible ,if not ominous for any future Chief Executive of the state to abandon Asaba, a land he must stand to take oath of office? Everything is not politics. Somethings are sacrosanct, never to be sullied.
Again, while Okowa was speaking at the event at cenotaph Asaba,he never said he will choose his successor come June or any time. He only stated that the process is imminent and would involve all stakeholders, guided by the Almighty.At no time did he give even the faintest hint that the next governor would emerge from Delta south, Delta central or Delta North. He never mentioned or opposed the prospects of an Urhobo or Ijaw Governor or any other contender from a specific ethnic group.But pronto wild claims hit town that he plots in solo authority to install a governor. What a poor judgement!
Okowa’s remark at the media interactive session that rotation of Delta governorship seat was not a written arrangement under PDP need not generate excessive fret. His assurance that the party will follow equity and fairness in the search for successor is plain enough,to soothe suspicion.
Those stoking heat,by twisting Okowa’s statements need to take heed.This is Delta.A multi ethnic state so complex and tumultuous cannot take an emperor. No single mortal in Delta, no matter how powerful can successfully enthrone a governor with imperial proclamation on the podium.To splash Okowa with all – knowing despotic colouring is unkind . He does not have the temperament of an autocrat. Who can label Okowa a bully with his measured benign steps?
In the orbit of democracy,no one expects the opposition to trumpet every word or action of the government in power.Opposition elements exist to hold the ruling authority accountable to the people.But misinformation is not critical engagement.It is inflammatory and divisive.
Okowa is an ordinary mortal not infallible but he is self respecting .A man of liberal humanity who has progressively won his elections as local government chairman since 1998, senator ,2011 and governor 2015 cannot have the credentials of a foul player.A time-honoured masquerade can scarcely falter to ridicule at the sound of a drum.
Moreover Okowa came to government house by popular democracy.He knows power belongs to the people through the glory of God.
As a mass oriented grassroots politician, he clearly knows the redeeming importance of team building and dangerous implications of self aggrandizing politics.
But it would be uncharitable and futile for anyone to heckle or cajole Okowa to lock himself in a closet and hide when the race for 2023 begins.The Governor will come out and certainly wise enough to rise for democratic inclusiveness,driven by people -centered rally not exclusive agenda.
Okowa will not impose his successor on the Urhobos, Ijaws, Aniomas, Itsekiris and Isokos. A man of self restraint,he is not a reckless leader who would choose to test the will of the ethnic groups.
The next governor will emerge by consultation and democracy.He said it.
Friends must suspend their anxieties and foes their fears. Okowa understands Delta and her razor-sharp complexity.
He desires to exit power peacefully without a haunting past.He craves to finish stronger and happier.
He is smarter than you think.
Comrade Chiazor is a Media Assistant to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and former Delta State Council Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).