Alex Osondu Atawa-Akpodiete
While sitting at the Unity Hall at Government House Asaba recently, I became pensive and got lost in my thoughts. It was at the swearing in of the Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (DESOPADEC) new board. The DESOPADEC board was as follows: Mr Godwin Ebosa- Chairman; Chief William Makinde – Managing Director; Chief Askia Ogieh – Executive Directors, Finance and Administration; Mr Phillip Gbasin- Executive Director; Hon Ochor Chris Ochor – Executive Director. He also swore in six Project Representatives (Commissioners) of Oil Producing Areas in the state, which included: Chief Amos Itiwhe, Chief Pius Ovbije, Jonathan Amitaye, Hon Ovie Oghoore, Chief Thomas Ereyitomi, Nnamdi Ezechi, Hon Fidelis Oputa and Chief Favour Izoukumor.
My reflection that day was provoked by a phrase “Principle of Continuous Improvement” from His Excellency, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta State. Governor Okowa when he was addressing the newly sworn-in Chairman, Managing Director, Executive Directors and Commissioners (representatives). He explained that the DESOPADEC law was amended because of his belief in the Principle of Continuous Improvement. He also added that fairness, equity and Justice are the watchwords of his administration and encouraged the new appointees to apply the bottom-up approach whereby the community will determine the projects they need.
Every true leader must be teachable and receptive of constructive criticism. One of the minefields of leadership in Nigeria is the high level of sycophancy and ‘yes” men (and women). These yes men do not tell their leaders the truth and agree with everything the leader says and does without offering their own contrary suggestions or constructive criticism. This opens the leader open to the pitfall of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” The tale of the Emperor’s new clothes is from an ancient folklore in many countries including Sri Lanka, Germany, Turkey and Spain. It has been reproduced by Hans Christian Andersen. The legend goes thus: a highly feared and egotistical king came out one day on a street parade. He was known for his fondness for new clothes and as a result was swindled by two weavers. The king was naked. His advisers and subjects, instead of telling him that he was in his birthday clothes, started shouting “The Emperor’s new clothes are luxurious.” They essentially allowed their “Oga” to expose his nakedness in public out of sycophancy and fear. They also did not want the king to say that they were unfit for their position or stupid. We use this story to advise leaders to always surround themselves with people that will tell them the truth and advise them properly, without fear of losing their jobs.
There is an Old Testament story of the son of a King who had incestuous desires for his sister. His sycophant friend helped him concoct a plain to actualize his depraved desire, leading to a chain of destructive events (rape, murder) in the house of the second king of Israel.
For the media in this present dispensation, I have argued for constructive criticism as opposed to destructive criticism.
The initial criticisms about the governor running an “Ika” or Delta North government have been proven wrong, based on the ethno-heterogeneous appointments that are in compliance with the Federal Character provision of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Even the concerns voiced by some women has been assuaged by the initial appointment of two female commissioners, and the recent appointment of three females as members of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and three female members of the Post Primary Education Board (PPEB).
What is puzzling many watchers is the high number of Special Assistants or aides to the governor, with some overlapping portfolios. Based on the huge debt burden of the State, a straight forward approach to reducing the cost of governance is by reducing the number of Aides, without undue concern to the exigencies of political settlement of those that worked in the campaign. These Aides, especially the youths, could have been absorbed into one of the skills acquisition programmes such as Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); or Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP).
The second troubling development is the return or repeat commissioners. This is not about those who have achieved recognition at the national level and have now come to accept “lesser” positions. Those ones could be suffering from an unquenchable desire to serve as opposed to reluctant refusal to leave the system. I am here concerned about an issue raised by a commentator that sent me an article, insinuating that the current regime was simply an extension or continuation of the regime of Former Governor Chief James Ibori. This point appears to be buttressed by the re-appearance (euphemism dictates this as opposed to use of “recycling”) of those that served under Ibori’s regime in this administration as either Commissioners or Aides. Obviously, it is the Governor’s prerogative on who to appoint and how many people to appoint. The Governor has already stated at various fora that it will no longer business as usual. This begs the question – are there not enough qualified new blood to help achieve the SMART agenda? The jury of the people of Delta will have to decide if this is antithetical to the “Principle of Continuous Improvement.”
Delta State is poised for greatness, but it must be a collective responsibility. Of course, we should realise that the Governor cannot do it alone. He is not operating as a Sole Administrator. Therefore, those appointed as Special Advisors must advise properly, the Commissioners must diligently handle their commissions (Ministries), while the Special Assistants must assist well.
Rev. (Prof.) Alex Osondu Atawa-Akpodiete, a public Affairs Analyst, writes from Washington. Contact him on +2348138391661 (SMS) or Profatawa@gmail.com.