A People’s Sheriff in Delta, by Ken Ugbechie

A People’s Sheriff in Delta, by Ken Ugbechie

Governor Sheriff and Okowa

On a wet, puffy morning, behold a spectacle. Inside the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, Delta State. A Sheriff switches seat with an Ifeanyi. Both men garbed in glory, encased with God’s mercy and favour. Ifeanyi Okowa, a medical doctor-turned politician handed over the Governorship signet to Sheriff Oborevwori, an oil and gas businessman-turned politician.

Monday, May 29, 2023. A moment in time. A day of history in high tide. Okowa who holds the historical record of being the first Delta north son (Anioma nation) to become governor of Delta handed over to Oborevwori, the first Speaker of the State Assembly to transit to the most exalted political office, governor of the state. History meets history; grace embraces grace; a symphony of destiny performed with stringed instruments is playing before the concourse inside and outside the jammed stadium.

Oborevwori, the first Okpe Kingdom son to become governor of the state; history. The longest serving Speaker ever in the annals of the state Assembly; history. Everywhere you look, every parameter you use, Oborevwori, as a man of history, is writ large.

For the first time, Deltans have a governor they call by his first name. Sheriff! Everybody calls him Sheriff. The cab man, the fish seller, the tricycle rider, the corporate chiefs, visitors, just anyone. He’s Deltans’ Sheriff, their defender, peace enforcer, protector and the one they trust to do more. His first name appeal to Deltans makes him more relatable to his people. It gives him a one-of-us status among the people. He’s in the club of world leaders who were more identifiable by their first names. Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was more popular as Boris. Former Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Arden is popular by her first name Jacinda.

All too obvious, Deltans love their Sheriff. To win 21 local governments out of 25 in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Delta is no mean feat. Sheriff achieved it. It’s a show of his state-wide acceptance and popularity.

Sheriff is not showy. He’s just popular. He connects with his people. In the streets, byways, marketplaces, pubs and shebeens, the talk is about the new Sheriff in town. His simplicity, humaneness, accessibility are the bricks that cement his connection with the people. Hours after he was sworn in, there was a burst of enthusiasm among Deltans; a resurgence of hope. Okowa has done well, indeed very well, they say; but they expect Sheriff to do more. They know he will do more. They cite his antecedent as Speaker as reason they trust their Sheriff. Under his stewardship as Speaker, there was stability in the legislature. His transparency, people skill and competency were deployed in full plume. The succubus of banana peel that consumed other Speakers before him did not affect him. The bogey of legislative rascality that stymied the strength and sturdiness of the same legislature years past faded away. A Sheriff spirit of courage and candour enveloped the chamber and its occupants. Deltans attribute his longevity and sterling performance as Speaker to his ability to lead without hubris. Without the airs of a brassy boss.

Neither rash nor brash, Sheriff offers a whiff of hope. He understands the strength and weakness of the state. He showed this understanding in his inaugural speech. He made it clear that he wants to grow the economy of the state; build human capital and elevate quality of life among the people.

One way to grow the state’s economy is to return Warri to its original commercial hub status. The Governor wants to give special attention to Warri, deservedly so. The process, he said, has already commenced with the establishment of Warri, Uvwie, and Environs Development Agency (WUEDA). A Storm Water Project, ongoing, will be completed.  He promised to expedite action on the ongoing rehabilitation work on the Warri Township Stadium.

Without a doubt, Warri needs a makeover. Both in infrastructure and social values. Warri used to be the Mecca of corporate Nigeria and multinationals seeking to do big business in Delta. ​It was Delta’s Broadstreet; the place of first destination by persons from mainstreet. But a coalition of factors, including insecurity and communal clashes among adjoining communities, robbed Warri of its glory. A Sheriff has come to restore that glory. And he’s not joking.

Sheriff knows. He knows his state very well. He knows what the people want. He captures it thusly: “The issues that confront this administration are not new. They are about improving the quality of life of our people, about building bridges of social cohesion, about giving our people the hope of a better tomorrow, and about accelerated development.”

He has set out to achieve this through his M.O.R.E agenda; encapsulated as Meaningful Development, Opportunity for all Deltans, Realistic Reforms and Enhanced Peace and Security. This is what is needed in the state at these times. This will demand a value shift in the civil service. Rejigging and reforming the state civil service to conform with requisite corporate governance creed in the 21st century is key to the success of the governor. The pace of development of any state or country bears direct link with the level of efficiency of the public service. Nigeria dithers on many fronts largely because the nation’s public service has become a dumpsite for crooks and dimwits.

The new Delta governor has promised to reform the state’s civil service. Such reforms should transcend value shift to prompt payment of workers’ wages. No nation or entity that owes salaries should expect the best from its workers. Sheriff must, as a necessity, break away from the hoodoo of non-payment of pensions and emoluments which has afflicted many states, even the Federal Government. As an established friend of the poor and the under-class, he should not take his eyes away from the plight of teachers in Delta. The teachers and pensioners in Delta look to Sheriff for succour. They believe in their new Governor. They say in him and through him, their redemption has come.

By every yardstick, Sheriff is the most popular politician among the people in Delta to have been elected governor. Some political heavyweights may loathe him. Some of the privileged elite may dislike him for whatever reason. But truth is, he enjoys overwhelming love among the real people, the voters. He commands street credibility, street love and affection. The oldies call him ‘our son’; the young daily job strugglers call him ‘our Sheriff’. He’s the people’s Sheriff. Such love has no other politician enjoyed across the state.

Something about this Sheriff that makes him likeable, relatable, and passionately loved by his people. Some say he’s a divine project. Others look to his humility while yet others see in him a model of hope, a motif of grass to grace. But whatever it is that counts for him, the Governor should know that outside the glitters and cauldron of Government House, there are millions of Deltans who love him so much and who believe in a better tomorrow just because he’s their Sheriff. To such horde, he must give hope. That is leadership.

First published in the Sun