The Rt. Hon. Solomon Funkekeme is a man many would not credit with sycophancy or any of its correlates. In This interview held recently in Asaba, the former multi-term commissioner in the state and former Minority Leader and Deputy Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly (DTHA) opened up on his relationship with subsisting state governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa and his performance in office, two years into his current term. He commends Okowa and likens him to Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory.
Excerpts from the interview are presented below:
You have long been associated with the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa; What can you say about him and his government?
We have known for long; in fact, in politics, we came together in 1999 when the military restored democracy to Nigeria and we have since held several positions in the political scene and worked closely together at various levels and at different times. There is just one word to describe him and that is dependability; he is truly dependable and has a focused mind for the success of whatever he is involved in.He has the single mind of positive approach to the pursuit of set goals.Okowa is one who is hardly distracted, no matter the circumstance.He is a man steadily committed to set goals.In fact, all of his attributes can be summed up in the word dependability. One of the Psalms speaks of the inestimable value of a dependable character; I have no doubt that Okowa is one such rare, very rare, dependable character. People speak of loyalty as a great virtue and I am tempted to believe them. However, there is a great positive difference between loyalty, which may be dictated by circumstances, and dependability, which, to me, surpasses loyalty in many positive respects; that character of dependability is what Okowa has.
Can you let us into some situations in which this trait of dependability has played out?
I was Director of Communications during the campaign towards the 2015 governorship election in the state. I was also his agent at the election collation centre. In the course of my work in both situations, I came to realise that there is no way that he would dissuade you from doing what you put to him, provided it is tenable.I recall an issue where some fellows had paired him for a debate with his colleagues, without first taking into considerations some variables that ought to have been resolved first, or adequately taken into account.When I heard this, I raised some issues; he agreed with us and we asked the organisers of the debate to address the issues we raised and get back to us to participate in the debate; we did not hear from them after that. So, from this, you can see that he is a man who is truly interested in details, not glamour.I was also secretary and he was Chairman of a small caucus group for former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s re-election.All through that, there was no time he was not readily available. It is extremely remote for his programme to fail because not only are they well planned, but also consistently followed up with a burst of uncommon energy and devotion. So, having worked with him at various levels, I can tell you, without any form of fear of contradiction, that he is truly dependable.
How has this character of dependability played out in governance?
Quite well.The SMART Agenda was put together by a team, subject to his approval.I can assure you-and no reasonable person or objective mind can say anything to the contrary-that, as is clearly evident, everything about it is being put into evident effect by way of consistent, faithful implementation. In fact, the success of the SMART Agenda so far is an attestation to the fact of the dependability of the person of the governor and the inherent virtue of tireless consistent commitment to the principle of goal attainment. If you look at what he is doing in a place like Asaba, the state capital, for instance, particularly in terms of linkages, and the Urban Renewal Segment of the SMART Agenda, it is extremely well founded and encouraging. That is one.Secondly, this is also evident in terms of his evident excellence and dexterity at resource management.He is now (the equivalent of) our late sage and management wizard, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who reportedly prosecuted the Nigerian Civil War without the government borrowing a dime.Okowa came into office at a time when the national economy was in deep recession, yet, he has performed so well in the last two years that no objective person would doubt his claim to stellar outing in terms of service delivery.
The effect of the principle of commitment inherent in the virtue of dependability is the result of what we are seeing in the style and manner he has administered the state in the last two years.His efficiency at resource management and his adoption of the feedback mechanism as inherent in the town hall meetings that he is now using to gauge the pulse of the public in the 25 local government areas also prove that he is truly an efficient all-round leader. By his disposition, he has succeeded in consolidating peace in the state as there is now evidence of inter-ethnic harmony, based on his huge sense of equity and justice in resource allocation and appointments. At a time that most leaders elsewhere are afraid of meeting their constituents for reason of non-performance, Okowa is meeting at close quarters with every stakeholder at town hall meetings. Okowa is not afraid of the people and he wants to use the feedback from the meetings to make preparations for even better outing in the days ahead.
So, how, in all honesty, would you rate his performance?
He has done well. In fact, in the light of the recession, I can say that he has excelled, and I mean this without any fear of anyone contradicting me. In saying this, I can tell you with all sense of modesty, that I have enough experience as former Minority Leader of DTHA, Deputy Speaker of the House, Commissioner under several administrations, Chief Press Secretary to the pioneer Speaker of DTHA, the Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Okoro, Vice President, Student Union Government (SUG), of the former Bendel State University (BENSU, now Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma) and President of its SUG at what was then Abraka campus of the university , Deputy Project Coordinator of The Pointer newspaper and now, Chairman of the Governing Board of Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro.So, without sounding immodest, I have enough experience to assess any government , and I can tell you that, based on my assessment, Okowa has done well, and the best anyone can do is to offer him quality advice, not praise singing or unnecessary virulent criticism not based on objective reasoning or facts.Having said that, I would want, through this interview, to draw his attention to the necessity for him to spread his development initiatives to the rural areas more vigorously in order to attain even development of the state. Evidently, he is doing exceptionally well.
You speak so eloquently of the governor, but a group of opposition party leaders recently accused the governor of lopsidedness in his appointments; what is your reaction to this?
Well, with all due respect, they are entitled to their opinion and I immensely respect them for that. But did they provide the statistics, the vital data, on which they pegged their accusation? I did not see any data that they provided to support their allegation and, in the light of that, how much weight would and should that carry before objective minds? Maybe they are referring to the domestic staff of the governor, in which case I will say-again I have no evidence to buy their allegation-that they do not expect a governor not to pick the bulk of his domestic staff from among his catchment area. It is the same with others at all levels.As far as I am concerned, everyone has a right to his expectation; it is natural, However, to foist an allegation on such a serious matter without providing the most basic evidence in support of it-the table or data to prop the case, is not the best thing to do in the circumstance. People should be able to substantiate their claims with accurate facts and figures, otherwise, they become ridiculous and untenable, For me, to give a blanket criticism without data is political.Honestly, given the complexity of the state, I commend the governor for being able to handle the state in such an equitable manner, as a result of which there is now an evident consolidation of the ethnic harmony that previous administrations laid the foundation.
Now, looking into the future, what do you see coming from the administration?
Very, very positive; this is because, after the ongoing town hall meetings, the Okowa that I know will come out with an agenda that will drive the administration to a higher level of performance in the days ahead, for the overall benefit of the state. Based on the feedback from the meetings, he draws up an implementation programme for the well thought out suggestions of the people at the meetings.That, in effect, means that, in 2019, his development efforts will even be more evident for all to see.Like I said,this will be more so if he pursues more vigorously rural development to ensure even development of the state. For instance, if he competes the Egbo/Anyakromor bridge started by the Uduaghan administration, he would have permanently etched his name in the mind of the Ijaw nation the way former governor James Ibori did with the Bomadi bridge project. This is because the bridge will open up many communities to modern indices of wholesome development. We trust he will do that anyway, given his antecedents.