THE Delta State government in the South South geo-political zone of Nigeria has effectively leveraged on the synergy of continuity to ensure that the dynamic administration of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa builds on the solid foundation that the immediate past administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan laid with the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) for the state.
Governor Okowa believes strongly that the 17 global goals adopted by the United Nations on September 25, 2015 are in tandem with the S.M.A.R.T Agenda of his administration. He is therefore leaving nothing to chance in his efforts to make a difference in the lives of his people through the holistic implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Basically, the SMART Agenda is an acronym for “Strategic Wealth Creation of Projects Provision of Jobs for all Deltans; Meaningful Peace-Building Platforms aimed at Political and Social Harmony; Agricultural Reforms and Accelerated Industrialization; Relevant Health and Education Policies; Transformed Environment through Urban Renewal.” According to Okowa, “essentially, S.M.A.R.T is a programme designed to create jobs, generate and sustain businesses, and stabilise families and communities within a framework of equity, fairness, and justice.”
Since the adoption of the SDGs, Governor Okowa has prioritised the actualisation of the global goals through the SMART Agenda.
MDGs: Delta State score card
Before the inception of the Okowa administration on May 29, 2015, the immediate past administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan had worked relentlessly to tackle an array of issues under the MDGs that included uplifting the status of human development, with emphasis on education, agriculture, provision of potable water/sanitation and development of a grassroots-based micro-credit scheme.
The Uduaghan administration had provided free medical care for children under five and elders above 65, as well as free natal care for pregnant women until delivery. This drastically cut down on child and maternal mortality. It also provided free and compulsory education up to secondary school level, and there were marshals deployed to ensure implementation and eradication of the out-of-school syndrome.
It is significant that in 2013, Uduaghan invited UN assessors who spent about a year in Delta State evaluating the implementation of the MDGs. When the result was unveiled at the 2014 United Nations General Assembly in New York, Delta State government won international accolade for meeting international standard in the thematic areas under scrutiny by the team of seasoned assessors led by Shola Omoregie, a former UN secretary-general's envoy to Africa.
The report, however, noted that the implementation of the MDGs remained an unfinished business.
Transition from MDGs to SDGs
To ensure that the unfinished business of MDGs is concluded with the SDGs, Governor Okowa decided to put in place committed officers to carry out the works that would enhance lives and quality of living. He appointed Andy Ilabor as Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on SDGs and Chuks Nwani as Director in the Directorate of Sustainable Development Goals in Delta State. The government has been touching lives through the Directorate of Sustainable Development Goals since January 2016 when the implementation of the SDGs commenced.
The first step taken by the Okowa administration was a one-day capacity building workshop on SDGs held in Asaba, the Delta State capital. The theme of the workshop is: “Understanding the SDGs, entry point for effective implementation in the state.” The workshop was aimed at evaluating the state's implementation and achievements of the MDGs in empirical terms as well as preparing to key into the SDGs. Emphasizing the need to start the SDGs agenda on a sound footing, Okowa said it was imperative for statisticians to put together a comprehensive and reliable end-point report of the MDGs.
He declared his commitment to the achievement of the SDGs because his mission in governance is to grow the economy through the promotion of entrepreneurial development and expanding investment opportunities by assisting Deltans not only to become self-reliant but also employers of labour.
Mr. Ilabor, Senior Special Assistant to the state Governor on SDGs said that a review of the MDGs in Delta State indicated that the state had a commendable implementation of the initiative both at the state and local government levels, particularly in its Conditional Grant Scheme. He noted that with the endorsement of the SDGs by Nigeria, there was need to reverse the unacceptable considerably declined conditions of the poor in Delta State.
Mr. Patrick Origho, Delta State Head of Service (HoS), said that the transition of MDGs to SDGs will enable the state complete the unfinished business of MDGs. He urged civil servants as implementers of this initiative to work with great circumspection and accountability which are necessary requirements for its success.
Governor Okowa demonstrated his commitment to the actualisation of the global goals as he had in September 2017 approved the release of N600 million counterpart-funding for the implementation of the 2017 SDGs cycle in the state.
Alleviating poverty through strategic wealth creation
The poverty alleviation strategy adopted by the Okowa administration is a deliberate government focus on stemming the tide of rising unemployment through time-tested and trusted quick-win schemes and long-term plans for job/wealth creation in the state.
A key component of his administration's wealth creation strategy is aggressive promotion of Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs), which form the fulcrum of driving economic growth in any society. He has also made skills acquisition the fulcrum of his administration's job creation efforts. Under his wealth creation programmes, the Delta State government has kept faith with Youth Agriculture and Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP), Skills Training Entrepreneurship Programmes (STEP), the Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP), and the Central Bank of Nigeria's Anchor Borrowers' Programme (ABP). Okowa has continued to encourage Deltans to go into farming because he considers investing in agriculture as the quickest way to create job opportunities and grow the economy.
The state government has put in place adequate plans to ensure food security through the empowerment of existing farmers and encouraging new entrants into agriculture through the oil palm development programme, rice production and fisheries. Over 5,000 youths are currently engaged in aquaculture as the sum of about N46million was approved for this programme. In the area of rice production, the state government approved N51 million to promote all-season rice production in the state.
The state government also distributed tractors to 64 cooperative societies. Other cooperative societies got melon shellers, outboard engines, fishing gear, improved variety of cassava stems, fertilizer, cash, fingerlings, feeds, day-old chicks and feeds. Many others got layers, growers, feeds and cash, while 40 tomatoes farmers were supported with seedlings, agro-chemicals and cash.
So far, the state government has created no fewer than 17,173 direct and indirect jobs through the job creation scheme.
In order to achieve the skills acquisition initiative, the governor created the Delta State Technical and Vocational Education Board and rehabilitated all the six technical colleges in the state with an assurance that starter packs will be given to Deltans who enrol for skills acquisition programmes. Over 4,300 youths have so far been trained in various agricultural and skills acquisition programmes with over 28,000 direct and indirect jobs created in the last two years and half years.
In a bid to touch the lives of more people, the Delta State Government recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Foundation for Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta (PIND) to strengthen economic development and poverty reduction in the state. The MoU which was signed in Asaba, the state capital has strengthened the state government's micro credit empowerment programme with market development projects and corporate technology.
In line with Governor Okowa's SMART Agenda, the Directorate of SDGs in the state is touching lives with a target of ending poverty of all forms and replacing it with prosperity for all.
Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people's lives and sustainable development. The Delta state government has continued to accord priority to education. To demonstrate its dedication towards quality education, the sum of N12 billion was allocated to the education sector for capital projects in 2017 Budget by the state government.
Technical and vocational education has also become the core educational policy, with emphasis on skills acquisition as against certificate acquisition. The sum of N900 million was earmarked to strengthen Vocational and Technical Education in the State during the 2017 fiscal year.
The government also established a Teacher Professional Development Centre aimed at updating and upgrading the skill set of teachers by providing systematic and coordinated capacity building for them. The Centre also coordinated teacher's professional registration and licensing. It also offers continuous professional development programmes and the sum of N400 million was earmarked for the Centre in the 2017 budget.
Based on the governor's desire to promote technical and vocational education, which is at the core of his administration's educational policy, he has repositioned seven existing technical colleges for accelerated technological growth and entrepreneurial education. Over N2 billion has been spent on infrastructural development and equipment purchase for the infrastructural upgrade of technical colleges in Agbor, Ofagbe, Sapele , Issele-uku, Ogor and Utagba-Ogbe.
Delta is also one of the states in Nigeria which had benefitted from National Home-grown School Feeding Programme. The State has so far received a total of N225,896, 300 for the feeding of 141,663 pupils. A total of 1,364 cooks were engaged in the exercise.
In terms of tertiary education, the state government provided infrastructural facilities to the Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka with its two campuses, Anwai and Oleh, Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, Delta State Polytechnic, Oghara, Delta State College of Education, Warri and Delta State College of Education, Agbor as well as the College of Physical Education, Mossogar.
Although the Okowa administration did not effectively ensure gender balance in constituting his cabinet as he has only few women among his commissioners, he is committed towards empowerment of women and elimination of all social vices against them.
The Delta State government has intensified its effort at eliminating all social vices against women, warning that it will no longer tolerate any form of discrimination against women in the state. In December 2016, the Delta State Ministry of Women Affairs, Community and Social Development hosted a two-day meeting on the Review of National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council Resolution, UNSCR 1325. The meeting was organised with the support of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The meeting was anchored on emerging issues on women, peace and security and the need for them to be incorporated in the National Action Plan. Mrs Omatsola Williams, Delta State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Community and Social Development said the National Action Plan was informed by the United Nations Resolution 1325 which was to protect women from all forms of violence, promoting their issues, improving their participation in different spheres of the society and ending impunity whenever the rights of women were violated through legal prosecution. Williams noted that the implementation of the plan would be led by the Ministry of Women Affairs thorough a multi-stakeholder steering committee comprising of members from other peace-building institutions.
In August 2017 Aisha Alhassan, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development in continuation of her advocacy and enlightenment campaign on the empowerment of Nigerian women, paid a courtesy visit to Governor Okowa. The governor used the occasion to reiterate the commitment of his administration to the promotion of women affairs and advocated for the continued sensitization and empowerment of women for the development of the society. He commended the minister for the sensitization and empowerment of women for the development of the society, stating that “when you empower a woman, you empower the family.”
The governor informed the minister that the state government has done a lot to domesticate the Child Rights Act in the state, adding that the state takes the child rights act very seriously.
Decent work and economic growth
The Delta State government believes in the concept of decent work as a tool for poverty reduction and human development. This was why at the inception of Okowa's administration, he promised that the payment of civil servants' salaries in the state as and when due remains a top priority. He added that his administration was committed to the welfare of civil servants in the state, saying that they are the key drivers of the programmes and policies of the state government towards actualizing the SMART Agenda.
However, when the Delta State government received N10 billion as a tranche of the Paris Club refund, some months ago, there were hues and cries that the money was not judiciously utilised for the payment of the backlog of workers' salaries and pension arrears. But in August 2017, the state government explained that the state's share of the Paris Club refund was used judiciously. Mr. Charles Aniagwu, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor disclosed that out of the N10billon, Local Governments in the state were given N2.1billon as their statutory share while about N5bn was set aside to settle certain issues relating to aspects of salary arrears, co-operative deductions and pensions. The sum of N2billion plus was earmarked for priority projects that required urgent attention and payment of contractors.
Justifying the setting aside of about N3billion for infrastructure and payment of contractors, Aniagwu stressed that government exists for everybody and not just for the payment of salaries of workers which are less than 2 percent of the population of the state. “If the government spends virtually all that comes to pay salaries of workers, what happens to the larger chunk of the population?,” he queried.
However, in September 2017, retirees in Delta State under the umbrella of the Association of Contributory Retirees, (ACR) embarked on a protest against the state government over the non-payment of their entitlements. They claimed that out of the N10 billion given to Delta State in the third tranche of the Paris Club refund, only a paltry N300 million was released to retirees out over N20 billion owed them.
Comrade Ajueitis Ovwiroro, leader of the group expressed bitterness over the non-payment of their entitlements. According to him, the retirees could no longer take care of their families, pay house rents, school fees, and other expenses. “It is sad to note that as of September 2017, contributory retirees in the state are still waiting for the implementation of the agreement reached with former Governor Uduaghan, the NLC, and the chairman of the Joint Negotiating Council for the release of N500 million monthly into the Retirement Benefit Bond Redemption Fund account with the Central Bank of Nigeria to settle the payments of the retirement benefits to contributory retirees.” The protesters also lamented the Delta State government's irregular payment of the 10 percent pension fund contribution into the Retirement Saving Accounts (RSA) of contributors who are civil servants.
Environment sustainability is important to the Delta State government. In managing the environment better, the Okowa administration responds adequately to the varying challenges in various parts of the state. The environmental challenges of the state include those associated with oil and gas exploration, solid waste disposal/management, erosion and flood control, land degradation, deforestation and the increasing risks from climate change.
The Delta State government places high premium on climate change mitigation strategies. In 2016, the state came up with Delta State Climate change policy, which was aimed at not only reducing greenhouse gas emission but also earning the state carbon credits. It is also meant to serve as a window for international funding for the state to vigorously pursue climate change mitigation action plans.
Speaking on the efforts of the State government in climate change mitigation at the 22nd United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCC) tagged Cop22 held in Marrakesh, Morocco, John Nani, Commissioner for Environment who addressed world leaders and critical stakeholders said the state has proposed a very comprehensive document on action plans on climate change mitigation. According to him, the Delta State environment is prone to oil exploration and mining which are the core agents of greenhouse gas emission. He noted that with the serious depletion of the state's forest reserve, there is high premium on greenhouse gas reduction.
The commissioner added that government's interest in this area has resulted in increased use of renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass) and combined heat and power installations using Best Available Technology (BAT); improved energy efficiency in buildings, industry, household appliances; reduction of CO2 emissions from cars transiting the state.
The state government solicited for financial support from developed nations and other international partners. “We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement the climate change policy through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people. The inter-linkages and integrated nature of the UNFCC are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of Cop22 is realized,” Nani said.
To tackle the devastating effects of flood and erosion menace in the state, Governor Okowa in collaboration with the World Bank and Federal Government recently initiated remediation projects in five communities in the state. The Governor who launched the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) in Asaba said his administration would welcome all partnerships that will help Delta State tackle erosion and environmental challenges.
To demonstrate his administration's interest in tackling environmental challenges Governor Okowa had in November 2016 released N530 million as counterpart fund for erosion control. The fund complemented the $2 million approved and released for Delta State by the World Bank from the $500 million approved for erosion control in Nigeria. The government said the money would be used to tackle the deplorable state of the over 3,000 erosion sites in Delta State which include Nkwu-Nzu and Obomkpa in Aniocha South Local Government Area, Ubulu-Uku with a spur into Onicha-Uku and Onicha Ugbo in Aniocha North, and Owantan Road, Agbor in Ika North-East.
Peace and strong institutions
The Delta State government is fully committed to addressing the challenges of peace, justice and strong institutions. On August, 2015, the state government inaugurated a 41-member Delta State Peace-Building and Advisory Council. The committee has been working very hard to ensure that peace continues to prevail in the state.
Kingsley Otuaro, Deputy Governor of the state and his security advocacy team usually go round the coastal areas of the state in a bid to check the resurgence of militancy.
On his part, Governor Okowa has always admonished the youths of the state to embrace peace because it is only under a peaceful environment that developmental projects could be executed. Governor Okowa is glad that based on the peace-building initiatives of his administration, inter-community conflicts and violence have been eliminated. He added that his administration was determined not only to sustain peace through inter-community relations in the state, but also tackle the challenges of violent crimes such as kidnapping and armed robbery, which have threatened the livelihood of people in recent times.
Some of the measures adopted by his administration to maintain peace include: Effective support for all Security Agencies, not only for combating the sources of insecurity and conflicts but also for intelligence gathering. Consequently, the Nigeria Police Force, State Security and Civil Defence Service, the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) have been receiving adequate support. The government is also providing assistance to community vigilante groups to keep the peace and provide security in the form of vigilante networks as approved by the Nigeria Police Force.
No doubt, the Delta State government is pushing ahead with the implementation of the SDGs despite the prevailing economic difficulties in Nigeria.