But for full-blown democracy, Delta State would have remained in socio-economic doldrums, so blessed yet struggling to achieve prosperity
With nature’s benevolence and lavish endowments, Delta State, created August 27, 19991 ought to be a state flowing with milk and honey with its people living a mountain-top life. Rich in oil and gas deposits, and blessed with arable land for farming and large bodies of water for aquaculture, poverty should be alien to the people while such basic social amenities and infrastructure like potable water, good network of roads, healthcare facilities, schools and electricity should by now be taken for-granted, rather than being a major pursuit of government 23 years after its creation. But Delta State presents a paradox of a rich state but poor people; a state on a sluggish ride in the locomotive of development. Yet, at its birth, hopes were high. Advocates of creation of more states canvass the view that more states would bring development closer to the door-step of the people and create greater opportunities for employment, job creation and business entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, political instability, inter-ethnic clashes and challenge of leadership had conspired to truncate these lofty ideals and slowed down the wheels of progress and development.
Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay, secretary to the state government, SSG, put the initial challenges that confronted the state in proper perspective and focus in an interview he granted the magazine when the state marked its 20th anniversary. Said he: “…that feeling of unity amongst those who the state was created for, was not also there. So, that became another big challenge. We got here and there was the issue of who is a true Deltan and who is not. And of course there was also the crisis for those who believed the state capital must be in a particular place, and for those who finally got the state capital; and the acrimony started growing. Ordinarily, one would think that the state was not going to survive another three, four years”. According to Macaulay who played a pivotal role in dousing the ethnic crisis and distrust that followed on the heels of the controversial siting of the state capital, “the ethnic crisis in the Warri area erupted and that again lasted for another seven years until 2004 when, by the grace of God, it was arrested”.
But perhaps the greatest challenge to the development of the state was intermittent military interruptions in democratic governance, which distorted development plans and engendered lack of continuity. The fallout was deficit in infrastructure and litany of abandoned projects as hardly had one administration settled down than a change was made either by force of arms against elected leadership or military postings. Between August 1991 when the state was created till date, 10 persons had governed Delta State, six of them, men in military uniforms. And from 1991 up till 1999 when democracy once again sprouted, the military had been in power for more than six years out of about eight years. Olorogun Felix Ovuodoroye Ibru, the first executive governor of the state, only governed for a brief spell of about 20 months before he was swept out of office along with his peers by military adventurists who according to Amos Agbe Utuama, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and deputy governor of the state, left “a history of adversity”.
Counting the gains of democracy, which was entrenched in 1999 with James Onanefe Ibori as the second executive governor of the state, Utuama noted that unlike under the military, “there is greater commitment to development all over the country. Governments are becoming more accountable than before and the spirit of competition has become more robust. Each time I travel out of Delta State to other states, I see development springing up… During the military, nobody was sure what was coming into the federation account as revenue. I didn’t know what was coming to my state; I didn’t know what was coming to my local government, and that was why we had stunted growth”. To Macaulay, this was not surprising and he adduced reasons. “Like you know,” he posited, “all over the country, a military administration is not really one that is development-focused. Of course, they have their shortcomings in the sense that they are not accountable to anybody. Any military governor is accountable to a maximum of two people – his boss, the Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Army Staff or Chief of Air Staff who nominated him and the Head of State. He’s not even accountable to the people of the state where he is governing. So, to that extent, most of them didn’t really have focus in terms of development and even in terms of building developmental structures that can aid and speed up development”.
Macaulay who was at different times during that period the state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, however singled out Ibrahim Kefas, then Air Commodore, who governed the state between September 26, 1994 and August 22, 1996, for recognition as one military governor “who left his foot-print in this state in terms of development”. Kefas’ legacies included the building of the former Government House, the floating of the state’s newspaper, The Pointer, the construction of the parade ground and the Cenotaph at Asaba. Today, most of government’s outdoor ceremonies like the swearing in of new elected officials take place at the cenotaph. Kefas also reopened 14 schools that were closed down in some communities by the former Bendel State government under Ambrose Folorunsho Alli, the late professor of morbid anatomy. Unfortunately, those who succeeded him did not keep up the tempo of development thereby putting the successes achieved in terms of development in a reverse gear.
Hence, when in 1999 the administration of Abdusalami Abubakar ushered the country into another democratic dispensation, it was like starting on a clean slate. Apart from the very few physical structures on ground, social services were almost non-existent. Macaulay recalled that “by the time James Ibori came in 1999, the state was actually in shambles. I remember describing our schools and health institutions as places that could be likened to piggeries. I remember making that statement when I was the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress because I was frustrated seeing what was happening in the state”. Chike Ogeah, the state Information Commissioner, similarly recalled how “His Excellency, the Governor who was a commissioner then, they used to work from caravans…So, basically, what I felt was that the administration of Governor James Ibori did its best in trying to set up a new state with all the attendant problems such as inter-ethnic rivalries”. Today, Utuama is happy that “in Delta State, as in most other states, we have moved very much from where we were before the military handover”. The state is now counting its blessings in terms of unquantifiable dividends of democracy and thanking God for them.Follow Us on Social Media