Ahead the upcoming launch of the book, “Anioma National Biography,” Utagba-Uno-born retired Naval Director of Finance and current President of Ndokwa Political Leaders’ Forum, Rear-Admiral Mike Ojinika Ona (OON), speaks on the political, economic and cultural life situation of Anioma people in Delta State.
He maintains that being a complex multi-ethnic polity, or mini-Nigeria of sorts, the state requires special talent to govern it and that Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the first Delta State governor of Anioma stock, is equal to the task. He argues however that his developmental agenda could have acquired more mileage but for dwindling resource, commending him nonetheless for his strides in taking Delta beyond the oil and making it an agro-based economy. He speaks with STEPHEN UBIMAGO. Excerpts:
As a prominent Anioma, Delta State indigene, whose opinions command great respect, many would want hear you express your take as to whether Anioma people, compared to other groups in the state, are faring well politically and economically?
When you want to discuss about Anioma people in relation to other groups in Delta State, you cannot treat Anioma in isolation of what is going on generally in Nigeria. Please take note that we are all Nigerians. In most cases, the pattern in Nigeria is that if your man is on the seat, it favours your people. Since the creation of Delta State in 1991, the first governor, Felix Ibru, was Urhobo. The second governor, James Ibori, was also Urhobo.
After Ibori, we had Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri. When you look at those three governors, you may argue that by our ways as a people they tended to favour their own people more than our own. But in the last two years or so, we now have our own man as governor from Delta North (Anioma), in the person of Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa.
Unfortunately again, he took over at a time when federal allocation had gone down drastically. So, the state is not as buoyant as it used to be back then. Accordingly, the rate at which he is prosecuting the development of the state is not at the optimal pace one would have expected. It has slowed down apparently. However, I must also give kudos to Okowa and the past governors as well.
They did their best. Our state is a complicated state. Within the state alone, you have the Igbo (or Anioma), the Itsekiri, the Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw and even other small Yoruba groups. Given this complexity, you will agree with me that so far, so good. The governor is doing his very best within the limits of dwindling resources. If you go to Delta State today, you will see that a lot of roads are being resuscitated. Schools are being rehabilitated. Please, you must give it to Okowa. He is an experienced politician.
He has been in government for a long time now. Based on that, I think it is proper that we give him credit in some critical areas of development. I hope that by the second term in office, we will see more of his activities.
If you are to suggest developmental areas of concentration or critical areas of compelling attention for the governor, what will you be suggesting to him?
One of the greatest challenges facing the country is power, and Delta is part of the country. No nation can develop without power. Today people are crying ‘no work, no money, etc,’ because there are no factories, no industries, etc. But even if you have intention to set up factories or industries that generate mass employment, the environment is not conducive enough. When I went to India first for studies in 1977, I impressed with the fact that India mapped out an area called Bangalore.
What the Indian government did there is that they created roads, made power available, telephones and everything. They ensured that people were able to access these amenities at a very cheap rate. Today Bangalore is the power behind India’s success. But in Nigeria there is no power. I mean no electricity. How do you expect the country to grow? Even if you have the idea of running a small scale industry, the fact that there is no steady power supply will just kill that idea.
How do you mean by selecting power as a critical area of need for a state governor as Okowa?
His intervention, plus the intervention of all the governors of the 36 states of the federation in the power sector will have a major transnational impact in the entire country. In Delta State, for example, people who are anxious to engage in one entrepreneurial activity or the other, would think twice before they go ahead. If, for instance, you decide to put up a hotel, you need generator to run the hotel.
Since there is no power, you would have to have a generator. You would have to perenially buy diesel to run the generator. Hence, there is no way all the money you are spending on private generation of electricity will not end up affecting you. Your return on investment will end up being marginal. That is why the pattern now is that many so-called business people in Nigeria are only going into buying and selling. Just buy and dispose off goods with ease and make your money. Finish. No real investment. People are not thinking of establishing industries where people can work and earn a decent living, simply because the power situation is very bad.
The lack of power is at the foundation of poverty both in Delta State in particular and in Nigeria generally. It is the cause of why Nigeria has not been able to take off industrially. It is at the root of mass unemployment and poverty in Nigeria. Two, our typical Nigerian attitude is also a problem, because we have this incurable desire to make quick wealth. We do not have patience. When you build a factory, you are supposed to allow the factory to take some time to mature before it can begin to generate profits. But the average Nigerian wants a situation where he will invest money today and be tomorrow or next tomorrow he has started making profit.
Years ago, a summit was organized by Delta State government, in which the theme of the summit was “Delta Beyond the Oil.” It was scripted towards diversifying Delta’s economy. Do you think the government has gone far in this area of diversification?
People are afraid of true federalism, because they think that without federal allocation some of the states cannot survive, which is not true. It has made many states not to look inwards. If you read the papers, like Delta News, you will discover that the Delta State government has done a lot in regard to diversification. The state is paying a lot attention to agriculture. Now, everywhere in each Local Government, the state government has established farms, including cassava plantations.
They are giving loans to farmers and training farmers in latest techniques in modern farming. Money is being invested in providing training centers, infrastructures, equipment like tractors and others things which farmers can readily access, all in the bid to diversity the state’s economy. There is no alternative to agriculture, because that is what can quickly change both the personal economy of the average Deltan and that of the state as a whole. Indeed Okowa administration has concentrated on agriculture to the delight of all well-meaning indigenes of the state.
For example, in my part of Delta State, Anioma or Delta North Senatorial Zone, the governor has established large farmlands for large-scale farming of rice. Most of the efforts of the Okowa government are actually geared towards self-sufficiency in agriculture. This strategy, if sustained over time, will make Anioma to lead the way in making Delta State actualize its “Beyond the Oil” agenda.
Delta State is envied for having produced many accomplished persons in the professions, business, banking, academics, and others. What factors can you identity as accounting for this salutary trend?
Naturally, Anioma people are very industrious. We are highly focused people. But the problem we have is the lack of very conducive environment for us to showcase all our potentials in terms of professionalism, otherwise by nature we have the skills and determination to succeed. Schools like St. Thomas’ College in Ibusa helped a lot in contributing to the success of Anioma people. In those days it was one of the best. People that passed through that school were seen as ambitious to become something in life. I passed through the school too. That is one of the propelling factors that had produced a number of prominent Anioma personages. Every house in Anioma is so invested in seeing his son or daughter become something.
A book profiling accomplished Anioma indigenes like you is set for launch. And the author told us that the idea is to inspire Anioma youths to pursue paths that have been modeled by such achievers as you. Will you say that Anioma youths are getting set to take up the baton?
Most of the things happening today to our youths are due to circumstances beyond their control. There are a lot of bad influences on youths not only in Delta State or Nigeria but indeed everywhere you go. Some of all these negative influences are from the Internet. So you see that children are not totally under the control of their parents, because when they go to school they associate with their peers including the corrupted ones.
What parents can do given this state of affairs is to stand firm and straight. They should try as much as they can to ensure that they monitor the influences on their children. Secondly, you talked about their will and determination. I am sure they have the will and determination, provided we the elders play the role of weaning them off bad influences and that is by paying closer attention to their welfare. Children need close guidance, because no parent will like to see his or her children become social outcasts or miscreants.
Do you think that showcasing Anioma role models will help to build the youths or, given current situation, will make no impact?
No doubt, it will create a very good influence on the youths. You will hear young people say they want to be like Okocha. They want to be like Nwankwo. It means that older ones who have shown successes in their disciplines or professions necessarily become role models for young people. So this book will go a long way in influencing the young.
That is why the book will be a very important contribution in molding our young ones for good, because it will inspire them to seek to pursue the path of accomplishment which those to be showcased in the book have tread. When we talk about development we are not only speaking of physical development; we are also talking about mind development. There is also spiritual development. No careless man; no undisciplined man can really amount to much in life. So this collective biography will help to mold the character of our young people.
Do you think that the role models whose biographies are to form the subject of this book have done enough in the area of mentoring?
I cannot say they are doing enough. Some of them are very selfish. Unfortunately not everyone is disposed to being of help. But that has to do with individual characteristics. There are some people who have everything, but are very unfriendly, very unsociable. They hardly interact. They have just a small circle where they operate. But there are others, who have made themselves open and accessible by members of their communities.
To what extent did your training and career in the military prepare you for life’s challenges?
In the military you pass through physical and mental challenges. Some of the courses you attend when you are in the military prepare you for different forms of life challenges. Some of the courses put you under very heavy pressure to see if you can be bent and broken. Some like the ones in the Command and Staff College, the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) prepare you for leadership. Overall, the military is a very sound platform and any person who follows the principles which the military imbues one with will somehow end up living at the very least a comfortable life.
As a leader and an elder of the Ndokwa nation, what do you think should be the role of traditional institutions in shaping the younger generation?
Today, all of us revere Jesus Christ, but we forget that our reverence for him is not because he was wealthy or because had billions of pounds in his bank account. Rather, the world reverences and worships him for his sacrifice. He lived and epitomized the ideal of a sacrificial life. Those people who had wealth, property, etc during the life time of Christ, who knows them today? When they died, their names died with them. Their names just slipped into oblivion. So, greed is a problem.
Many young people are anxious to become billionaires in a hurry. Some of the traditional rulers are also very anxious to make money. Today you see traditional rulers giving chieftaincy titles to people with questionable sources of wealth. And what is the yardstick, but that our man has made money. Please come and take chieftaincy because you are rich. See, children are watching and they are copying these things.
You are feeding them with the idea that it is money that the traditional institution in their community respects and recognises. When you call unworthy characters and give them titles because they have made money, without ascertaining whether their source of wealth is credible, you are encouraging armed robbery. You are encouraging kidnapping for ransom.
So, my advice to the traditional institutions is that before you invite anybody to come collect chieftaincy tile, you must know the genuineness of their source of wealth. These days, you find armed robbers. Once they hammer, as they say, you see them returning to their community to make noise. They go to hotels and waste the money. And then people will go to town saying that person has arrived. So, our traditional rulers must learn to despise members of their communities who come to show off ill-gotten wealth. They must also not be corrupt.
A situation where you see the truth but because somebody has cornered you behind the curtain and given you money, then you go to the public and you pervert the cause of justice, is really bad. Young people are watching; they are learning; and such things are influencing their characters.
‘In my part of Delta State, Anioma or Delta North Senatorial Zone, the governor has established large farmlands for large-scale farming of rice. Most of the efforts of the Okowa government are actually geared towards self-sufficiency in agriculture’
‘Today you see traditional rulers giving chieftaincy titles to people with questionable sources of wealth. And what is the yardstick, but that our man has made money’