Okowa and the transformation of Asaba, by Angela Okafor
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa came to power in 2015 with a strong pledge to develop Asaba the capital of Delta state. Not many people took him seriously for one obvious reason. They did not believe him.
Politicians are masters of tricks and empty promises. Whether on the campaign podium or inauguration stand, they say whatever thing that catches their fancy, all to deceive the “gullible” masses.
Okowa particularly stirred curiosity, on that fateful day of May 29th as he took oath of office before the Chief Justice of Delta state, Hon.Justice Marshall Umukoro.
Standing with a huge Bible in his hand, the Owa Alero-born politician announced that he would forward “to the Delta State House of Assembly within one week of inauguration” an executive bill tagged “Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency Bill, 2015”
The bill, according to Governor Okowa, was intended to transform Asaba into a befitting state capital. Since 1991 when the State was created, Asaba had remained nothing short of a glorified village. Hence, Deltans received the promise with cautious optimism.
Successive governments in the state had tried to improve Asaba. The administration of the first civilian leader of the state, Chief Felix Ovuodoroye Ibru, now late, laid foundation for development. His successor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori also made efforts before he handed over to Dr. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan, who built the Asaba Airport and the new government house.
But then Asaba by structure and topography remained a sorry sight almost run over by flood. It lacked good roads, modern architecture and other critical infrastructure necessary for effective government business. It was generally mocked as a glorified state capital with the poorest social amenities within the six states of the Niger Delta, coming only second after Yenegoa in Bayelsa.
Okowa faced the lamentable parlous condition of Asaba under the worst political climate in the annals of the multi ethnic state. He came to power when oil, the mainstay of Nigeria‘s economy had fallen to an all-time low of 12 dollars a barrel, a hopeless situation exacerbated by huge wage bill of Delta work force. Who can forget the economic state of Nigeria, particularly Delta in 2015 and how the Governor painstakingly tried to explain himself to Deltans. Many did not believe him, rather, he earned the uncharitable sobriquet of “Ego Aria” (no money) by all and sundry.
He was not deterred. Deploying exceptional ingenuity in managing a complex season of economic recession, the Governor rolled out a comprehensive work plan for Asaba under the template of capital development agenda.
To change the face of the city, he mobilized bulldozers to strategic points clearing and expanding. By the time the machines quietened down, columns and columns of roads running into several kilometers have emerged across Asaba, decorated with giant street lights and gardens. Okowa has replicated this road magic in satellite towns and communities around Delta. A feat that had since earned him a popular nickname “Road Master”.
A multi-billion-naira storm drainage system had also been put in place to solve, for the first time, perennial flooding of Asaba. Even before the project is completed, residents are already heaving a sigh of relief. The horror inflicted on residents by heavy floods each time it rained is now a thing of the past.
The Maryam Babangida road reconstructed by Okowa and commissioned by Sokoto state Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal in March 2020 is particularly salutary given its socio-economic importance with its location in the business district of Asaba. While inaugurating the 1.88 kilometre Mariam Babangida Way in Asaba, Tambuwal described Governor Okowa as “a sound, pragmatic and accommodating leader who has the people’s interest at heart.” He added that the Governors’ Forum and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) have much regard for the Delta Governor as a man with the grace to handle difficult tasks.
The Direct Labour Agency, DLA road, one of the longest roads in Asaba was recently commissioned by former Senate President and ex-governor of Kwara State, Rt.Hon. Bukola Saraki amid pomp and pageantry, another glorious feather on Okowa’s cap. If you know Asaba very well, you would know the pains residents and business owners went through on this particular road. Expansion and elongation of Okpanam road remains another achievement residents of that area will not forget. Madonna College road is another road that has helped to open up the state capital as even adjoining streets are feeling the impact of the Road Master.
A Court of Appeal complex has opened in Asaba, courtesy of Governor Okowa. A development that now places the city among the prestigious league of state capitals with such legal monuments. Before now, those seeking Appeal court judgements had to travel to Benin in Edo state. Okowa had not only ended this practice with all the risk factors but also enhanced the dispensation of justice for the good of Deltans.
The Asaba Airport built by the previous administration of Uduaghan came as a laudable initiative. But it faced teething problems resulting in its down grading by aviation authorities. Today, the Okowa leadership has reversed all that as the Airport is now fully functional, fitted with ultra-modern facilities and excellent tarmac to welcome big airplanes including trans – world airliners. Few weeks ago this same administration took a bold step to position the airport for optimum service and continuity through concessioning.
According to Governor Okowa, the consortium would pump N28bn (Twenty Eight Billion Naira) into the development of the Asaba airport as the investors handle the concession for a period of 30 (Thirty) years. The private managers of the airport had already paid the sum of one billion Naira to the Delta state government as revealed by the Commissioner for finance, Chief Fidelis Tilije, while the agreement will see Delta earning 100 million naira annually from the mouth-watering deal.
Within the past five years of governance, what perhaps stands as Okowa’s greatest legacy so far is Delta State Civil Service Secretariat located on Maryam Babangida way. The gigantic building is a multi-billion-naira wondrous architecture. Apart from the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, no other civil service Secretariat is bigger than Delta’s in Nigeria. The elegant structure will accommodate all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Asaba. This will not only help speedy running of administrative duties but also block loopholes in government expenditures regarding rents.
With widespread innovative projects in Asaba, dedicated to the wellbeing of the people of Delta state, Governor Okowa has set a trail blazing direction in the development of the state capital.
It is worthy of note that under the present administration, more investors are coming into the state. More individuals are building private and commercial buildings, opening up the capital city. Plazas and one-stop shops are sprawling here and there. More government-private partnerships are springing up. A typical example is the Spare Parts market on the Asaba/Benin Expressway. When opened, it will bring in more revenue and service to the state as Onitsha was the go-to place.
Under Governor Okowa, it is safe to conclude that Asaba is the fastest growing state capital in Africa’s most populous nation.
Author: Angela Okafor, Public Affairs commentator, wrote from Asaba.