By Chukwudi Abiandu
How time flies. Just like yesterday, Delta State which was carved out of the defunct Bendel State, which itself was so renamed from its defunct Mid-West Region nomenclature has come of age at 32. Created on September 27, 1991 by the administration of former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, fondly called IBB, the state came into existence with 25 local government areas covering three senatorial districts of Delta Central, Delta South and Delta North. The central is home to the Urhobo, Delta South is home to the Isoko, Ijaw and the Itsekiri ethnic groups and Delta North is home to the people of the Anioma ethnic nationality.
While there was some measure of jubilation at creation, the reality at operating the state at inception was the challenge of underdevelopment that the new state posed. To put it mildly, the state was grossly underdeveloped, as it lacked many important facilities for socio-economic improvement of the people. The entire state with 25 local government areas was a glorified local government. No access roads, no social amenities and accommodation for the teeming workers, who now have to relocate to Asaba the new state capital, posed a huge problem.
Veteran journalist and foremost Editor Mr. Frank Igwebueze effectively captured the overwhelming challenge of that time. In his write-up titled “Delta Blossoming with Age”, one of the contributions in the book: “Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa- Hope & Fulfillment”, he likened the situation at inception of the new state as equivalent to the bedlam that attended the recent unprepared departure of the United States of America’s troops from Afghanistan. He wrote: “While that of the Americans had the threats of violence, the creation of Delta State with its capital at Asaba was rather muted with a deafening silence, especially among its disparate ethnic groups. But happening under a military regime, acquiescence was taken for granted.
“The scramble to leave what is now left of the old Bendel State from where Delta State was carved out was an epic bloodless war. Deltans, as they have become, headed for an unprepared city called Asaba, which was ill-at-ease with the sudden deluge of human beings trooping in from Benin. Every available space was occupied. Makeshift tents among others, became shelters and offices.
“The most challenging was the space for the Military administrator who had reported to resume duty. The man had to squat at the old Bendel Hotel, but his stay in the hotel had to be cut short. The space provided could not cope with the volume of the military administrator’s visitors. Pastor Ifeanyi Agbeyeke, a retired permanent secretary on the state had the burden of shouldering the initial painstaking ordeal of locating not only a space for the military administrator, but for civil servants who had streamed into Asaba from the defunct Bendel State to resume in their own state.”
Indeed, no fewer than three military administrators were at different times in the state. The first was Group Captain Luke Ochulor. He had a “few months to lay the groundwork and set up the governmental structure.” He obtained the frequency License for Delta broadcast Station (DBS), and built the first improvised State secretariat on Summit Road with which he got the State government running till 1992, when late Olorogun Felix Ibru emerged as the first elected Executive Governor. His administration was brief as it was booted out along with other state governments and the Interim Federal Government of late Ernest Shonekan by the goggled putschist, late Gen. Sani Abacha. Another round of military administrators were appointed with the then State commissioner of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Abdullahi holding brief as Acting Administrator for three months. Col Bassey Asuquo took over as substantive military administrator and was succeeded by Group Captain Ibrahim Kefas. Others included Col. John Dung and Navy Captain Walter Feghabor who served from 1998 and handed over to the second democratically elected governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori on May 29, 1999.
Chief Ibori inherited a difficult period upon coming in as elected Governor. The State was in turmoil with the Warri ethnic strife as major factor, creating difficulty for the new civilian government. Chief Ibori’s Deputy, Chief Benjamin Elue in the Forward to the book, “The Ibori We Know … A man of Political Depth and Audacity”, written by two notable journalists Hon. Abel Oshevire and Chukwudi Abiandu spoke about the difficult era that they came in as Governor and Deputy Governor. He said: “We inherited a state that was very backward, bereft of tangible development. Asaba, the capital was a one-street town, Nnebisi Road, which ran from one end to the other. Warri the commercial city of the State was embroiled that had completely reduced it to a shadow of its old self. Therefore, we were faced with the challenge of quelling the many crises across the State, restoring peace and uniting the people. This was a major task we needed to accomplish before any development could be embarked upon. In the midst of these challenges, we had to also contend with inadequacy of funds.”
Yet, Chief Ibori as governor took up the gauntlet, faced the challenge squarely and with courage went into the creeks severally even amidst danger to his life he was able after painstaking efforts to get the people to understand the need to put strife away and unite for the purpose of making progress for themselves, their people and the state at large. The effort paid off, the people cooperated and sheathed their swords and brought the violence to an end.
Chief E.K.Clark, a notable Ijaw and Niger Delta leader was one of the wise men from the warring ethnic groups summoned by Ibori to dialogue and proffer solution to the crisis. Giving a graphic illustration of how Ibori did “what Napoleon Bonaparte could not do to bring peace to the state, the elder statesman said: “I must say that the Ibori Administration has weathered the storm and performed creditably, particularly when you recall that the administration came on board at a time the State was in turmoil. There was a lot of crises in the state at the time.” Indeed, the crises cut across the entire three senatorial districts of Central, South and North.
With the cessation of hostilities from the feuding groups and peace achieved Ibori then set out on governance proper by re-engineering the state that was then described as having the similitude of a broken chinaware with so much rut and decay, a function of age-long abandonment and underdevelopment. Of course, despite it being rich in human capital and natural resources the state looked forward to the opportunity to harness these resources for the good of the people.
In response to the challenge, bringing development to the state, Ibori set up the Delta state Think Tank, made up of eminent Deltans headed by the late Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, and charged with a nine-point responsibility. The report and recommendations of the committee became the fulcrum upon which Ibori’s development efforts of reversing the many years of utter neglect and underdevelopment of the state revolves. He then embarked on a massive and economic infrastructure development of the State, constructing and opening and connecting the rural communities through huge road networks and connecting bridges. Schools were built and rehabilitated, and he went ahead to establish the Delta State University, Abraka, created three state owned polytechnics at Ozoro, Ogwashi-Uku and Otefe Oghara, as well as set up the Delta State University Teaching Hospital at Oghara. He built the Olorogun Felix Ibru Secretariat to ease the shortage of office facilities for civil servants, including the senior and junior staff low cost houses, with loan facilities made available for civil servants to build houses and enjoy the ownership of cars. The Ibori era was a pleasant experience for government workers. He did not neglect sports development.
Chief Elue, the Deputy Governor said: “Every decision we took were in the best interest of the state and its people. “So Much sacrifice was made on the part of everyone in government in the process to get the state out of the woods, reposition it into the virile State it was by 2007, when we left office,’ he said.
Ibori’s successor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, erstwhile Secretary to State Government came on board as governor with his three-point agenda of Peace and security, Human capital development and Infrastructure development. It was the platform with which he built and consolidated on the transformation efforts begun by his predecessor for the State. For Dr. Uduaghan, sustainable peace and security forms the fulcrum on which good governance, equitable distribution and delivery of dividends of democracy evolves, thereby producing healthy neighbourliness, flourishing business and industry. He believed like other right thinking persons that no meaningful development or investment can take place in the absence of an enabling environment of prevailing peace and security. And building on the solid blocks put in place by his predecessor, Dr. Uduaghan went steps further and adopted a number of proactive strategies that drove his government’s resolve to maintain the relative peace and security within Delta State. The success of the peace and security initiative and resolve can be measured in comparative and favourable terms with what existed in other states of the Niger Delta. A major breakthrough was the occasion when Dr. Uduaghan and the Federal Government Amnesty team witnessed the surrender of arms by militants in Delta state.
He also launched the joint security patrol team comprising the Army, Navy, police and the State security service, as well as the waterways security committee, a move initiated to arrest the then prevailing insecurity in the state’s waterways, especially in Warri and environs. The Committee was composed of community leaders and youths who are familiar with the riverine terrain of the state. The committee monitored and sent early warning signals to the appropriate security agencies when breaches occurred. It ensured safety of the waterways for the populace, investors and maritime operators.
The administration of Dr. Uduaghan specifically built the human capital development programme around the active and result oriented participation of the average Deltan so as to realise its objective of eradicating poverty, disease and ignorance among the populace. He initiated programmes such as YETA (Youth Empowerment Through Agriculture, the Delta State Micro-Credit Programme (DMCP), Mass transport scheme, Talent/Potential Development and the training and retraining through workshops, seminars and in-service trainings
In infrastructure development Uduaghan’s administration paid attention to building and rehabilitation of bridges, reconstruction and construction of road networks across the three senatorial districts thus bringing about socio-economic activities, increased and easy movement of agro-allied, adequate and unhindered policing of all nooks and crannies of the State, back-up incentives for potential investors and to facilitate harmonious and intra-ethnic relationships.
Uduaghan’s three-point agenda was the administrations road map to a greater Delta by creating an economy that can survive and prosper without oil, culminating in the administration’s sing-song – Delta Without Oil.
Under Uduaghan, students received bursary awards across the state, including Delta indigenes in tertiary institutions overseas, with special emphasis on those who made first class and sought to pursue their education further. Also today in Delta State, pregnant mothers enjoy free maternity services and on delivery pay no fees, while children from 0-5 in age receive free medical treatment in state government owned hospitals. They are medical initiatives started by the Uduaghan administration. The point must be made also that on the transportation front, Uduaghan began the construction of the Asaba International Airport, which began operation before he left office, although hitches were observed that resulted in the Nigerian Airport Development authority putting operation of the airport on hold until observed anomalies were rectified and facilities installed.
The Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa administration succeeded Dr. Uduaghan bringing on board its five-point SMART agenda with the mantra to make every Delta prosperous and culminating finally in the STRONGER Delta theme. Coming at a time of the challenge occasioned by the economic meltdown, the administration with absolute dexterity was able to steer the ship of state through a very difficult economic terrain while taking cognizance of its campaign promises and fulfilling them. The situation was such that it was characterized by Egho a ria (No money) syndrome, and later faced and debilitating situation of the Covid-19 era that brought world economic activities to a halt. The good news was that the then governor remained resolute in delivering on his promises and went ahead to make early impact through massive road construction and rehabilitation.
Like his predecessor, Okowa built on the legacies begun by the governors before him, taking fulfillment of his campaign promises and programmes a notch higher. As with his predecessors, lack of space reasons will not allow for a comprehensive detailing of all that the Okowa administration did in the eight years of service. But they can be summarised as follows: On the Empowerment Job and wealth creation the government created Over 15,000 entrepreneurs, over 250,000 direct jobs, over 1,500,000 indirect and direct jobs, all from the many infrastructure development projects it handled.
In the area of road infrastructure- Urban renewal, rural and urban riverine areas integration, the Okowa administration made remarkable impact culmination in over 883 road projects, over 2,000 kilometres length of roads, over 1,400 kilometres of drains, seven completed bridges, 14 bridges under construction across the state, over 3oo km length of drains channel in riverine areas, completion of Ogbehe Floating market in Warri and the storm drainage project in Asaba and Warri.
In the Education sector, the Okowa administration established 26 new primary and 58 new secondary schools, constructed 1,717 classrooms, renovated 3,664 classrooms for public primary schools; rehabilitated six existing technical colleges across the state, established nine new model technical colleges, with three fully completed and functional; established 14 functional /skill CQUISITION CENTRES ACROSS THE State; established three new state owned universities and established the Teachers professional Development Centre.
It must be said that the okowa administration put in place notable landmark projects such as the prestigious Obi (Prof) Chike Edozien Secreatriat, Asaba, the Koka fly over bridge and interchange that has ended the traffic logjam hitherto experienced, thereby making motoring easy, the mechanic village also in Asaba. Many of such landmark projects are also available across the three senatorial districts.
Talking about Delta at 32, it will not be possible to put down in written form the level of transformation that the State has experienced. But suffice it to state that the development in terms of positive growth that the state has had is the result of the visions of the successive administrations and the passion of the respective leaders to drive and deliver on their visions and promises to the people. Each leader had challenges peculiar to him and evolved strategies within the challenge that prevailed during his time and Delta state has been the better for it. A peaceful, transformed and hospitable State achieved through the focused development strides of good leaders.
Incidentally, the new administration of His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, governor of Delta State has promised to take development beyond what exists in the State by doing more for the people through his M.O.R.E agenda.