Brickbats over cabinet appointments in Delta

Delta State governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, last Tuesday, swore in 17 commissioners after earlier putting on oath the first batch of eight commissioners, on July 3. While the portfolios of the first batch had earlier been announced, those of the second batch were contained in a statement issued by Secretary to the State Government, Mr Chiedu Ebie on Thursday.

The commissioners, drawn from the 25 local government areas of the state, had only one woman, Flora Alatan, in charge of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community and Social Development. Others included James Augoye (Works), Basil Ganagana (Energy), Peter Mrakpor (Justice), Patrick Muoboghare (Higher Education), Festus Ochonogor (Housing), Chika Ossai (Commerce and Industry), Patrick Ukah (Basic and Secondary Education), Charles Aniagwu (Information), Fidelis Tilijie (Finance) and Pere Gbe (Economic Planning).

Also on the list were Julius Egbedi (Agriculture), and Churchill Amagada (Lands and Survey), Lawrence Ejiofor (Culture and Tourism), Arthur Akpovwowo (Urban Renewal), Martin Okonta (Water Resources Development), Ifeanyi Egwunyega (Youth Development), Mordi Ononye (Health), Chris Onogba (Environment), Ovie Oghoore (Transport) Emma Amgbaduba (Oil & Gas), Gbubemi Ikolo (Technical Education), Mathew Tsekiri (Science and Technology), Henry Sakpra (Special Duties Goverment House).

Okowa, while performing the oath of office on them, admitted that it was obvious that women, who had worked for the success of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last general election, were not well represented in his new cabinet. He pledged better representation for women in subsequent appointments.

“I want to apologise to women. It is not easy to balance out the various pressures from our local government areas. But I want to reassure the women that in other areas of appointments, I will bring my discretion in fullest [to ensure] that women will be adequately represented. We are sorry everybody cannot be a commissioner. This administration will strive to ensure that all who laboured will be rewarded,” he said.

However since the release of the list of the commissioners some weeks ago, jabs and accolades had emanated from various quarters, with the governor being the focal point. Prominent among those who criticised the list was a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, who challenged Okowa to give account of how he spent the N1.15 trillion the state received as federal allocation, as well as from its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in the last 50 months. The influential PDP stalwart during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan further said he had engaged the services of some consultants to evaluate the public works executed in the state within the period under scrutiny.

Orubebe recently alleged that the ruling party in the state was filled with those he described as ungrateful and sadistic members whom he alleged engaged in questionable and damaging conducts. He threatened to “one day, come out to call names with facts and history”, noting that the “PDP is a party that kills the spirit of loyalty, love and commitment.” But Orubebe’s latest outburst against the governor became public during the swearing in of the second batch of the commissioners in Asaba, last Tuesday.

According to Okowa, his refusal to accede to Orubebe’s request for a commissionership slot led to the latter’s recent outbursts to call for a probe of his government. In a veiled reference to Orubebe, Okowa urged political leaders to apply decorum in their utterances in order not to heat up the polity.

The governor said political leaders in the state were expected to portray “some level of decorum in whatever they say or do because I am not the kind of man that want to be dragged into arguments with our leaders because I have a lot of respect for them. But when some leaders go off course sometimes, it is important to put things in the right perspective.

“It is truly unfortunate that one of our leaders has been insulting the office of the governor on the pages of newspapers and on the social media. It is very unfortunate that this type of situation took place and I wish that the criticism was based on real facts.

“But I do not think that the criticism was on a mistake on my part because the fact that a leader makes a request to appoint a commissioner and it is turned down is not enough for such a leader to go to the newspaper or the social media to criticise the government of Delta State. More so, when such a leader, by all standards and from all available information in the state, cannot be said to have contributed enough to say the kind of things that he has said on the newspapers.

“Only yesterday [last Monday], my attention was drawn to the fact that he has asked the government to account for the monies we have received in the last four years and I think that Deltans appreciate the much we have done within the limits of the resources we have.

“I am aware that in Burutu Local Government Area [where Orubebe comes from] alone, a lot has been done and will still be done. Just a few weeks ago the vice president of this nation was in Burutu to commission the Obotobo 1 and Obotobo 2 to Sekebolo to Yokri road which is a 20.76km road for which our people were happy.

“Only last year, we commissioned the Burutu township roads and I know that the people in Burutu town and the local government area are very happy with the jobs and I am aware that the road from Tuomo to Torugbene is on-going as I speak.

“I am aware that we are continuing the bridge in Ayakromo and so many other projects that we are undertaking, So, when such a person from that local government area is asking us to give account, I will say that I will want to start to give the account from his local government area and I urge him to tell us what he used his position to do for the people of Burutu.”

It was a mixed reaction from stakeholders in the state on the cabinet appointments.  Among them were Dr Emmanuel Ufuophu-Biri of the Delta State University, Abraka; Oghenejabor Ikimi, human rights lawyer; Cleric Alaowei, President, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (CHURAC) and Chief Sunny Onuesoke, a chieftain of the PDP in the state.

To Dr Ufuophu-Biri, an Urhobo, the new cabinet is peopled by personalities of high integrity and exemplary track records. According to him, “a good number of them are technocrats. They are people who have been successful in their different fields of endeavours. I think he has constituted a rather perfect cabinet. The last cabinet was good but this cabinet is better.”

For Ikimi, who is the executive director of the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP), the expectations of the people of the state as regards the new commissioners were high viz-a-viz security and the welfare of the people. While doubting if the new commissioners would perform creditably in office, he said although the last ones in Okowa’s first term did their best, poverty still pervades the entire state.

“During the last dispensation, Governor Okowa and his cabinet did their best to ensuring the above [security and welfare], but unfortunately many Deltans are still living below the poverty line, courtesy of the earth quaking levels of unemployment and official corruption in the state.

“The indebtedness of the state to her creditors did not really help matters at all. I believe that the new cabinet will not be different from the previous cabinet in terms of work ethics and the pursuit of the state government policies in the next four years. I am also not oblivious of the cry by some stakeholders in Delta politics over the state of affairs in state. But I make bold to say that those complaining of marginalisation are persons who actually lost out in the present political calculations of the state,” he said.

However, for Ijaw-born Cleric, the new cabinet members have the experience and knowledge to deliver the goods through their various portfolios. He also said the cry of marginalisation from some quarters was not unusual when political spoils were being shared.

“I am of the strong view that Okowa’s Stronger Delta mantra is well on course with his present crop of commissioners. I believe the governor can finish stronger. He has put up a team that can shoulder his policies and programmes to a successful end. However, the insinuations of some ethnic leaders about marginalisation are not out of place. Those who felt marginalised should cry out much early. That, in itself, can cure the injustice,” he said.

On his part, Chief Onuesoke, a  PDP chieftain, said Okowa had made good choices of people who would perform well if they stick by their modus operandi, adding that the governor’s first term cabinet did well in executing the SMART Agenda of the government. He, however, discountenanced the ethnic colouration being bandied around the appointments.

“It is absolutely premature for any right-thinking Deltan, who is conversant with the day-to-day running of government, to blame Okowa. I was the first Deltan who advised against counter-claims on the appointments by Okowa. I do not like to mention names but I do think it is proper to descend so low to rain abuses on Okowa for now that his cabinet doesn’t reflect the true state of the ethnic stock composition of the state,” he noted.