Our life jackets and headphones in place, off we sailed into the skies. Just that in a chopper you can’t sail too high, just high enough to get a good view of the earth
Road Master, isn’t that the name of a tire brand? Yes, the brand that prides itself on tyres that ‘provide re-treadability and extended tread-wear to help lower your cost per mile, not to mention plenty of traction in adverse weather conditions.’ That’s what I thought too until we got to Delta and found that it is the name of the governor. No, they do not have two governors in Delta State. The man sworn in for the job is still Dr Ifeanyi Okowa and he is still in the saddle. It’s just that the man is determined to do roads everywhere, including inside water. According to a Deltan, ‘the man is doing many other things but he is obsessed with doing roads. It’s like he had a deal with God that if he won the election in 2015, he would do a certain number of roads or even link the entire state by road.’ I chuckled at that. Who can do roads to link the entire Delta by road? That is one huge state. Some towns are even below sea level. Then apart from that, it is one state with people of diverse orientation and colourful opinions and in my strict opinion, the state has too many big boys who are difficult to please. Even the ‘small boys’ have big opinions which they are never reluctant to voice. So, if you meet many who agree on a subject, you are tempted to listen because sometimes they dismiss obvious achievements and suck you into such phrases as ‘na wash’.
With 296 road projects from Ethiope to Ozanogogo, from Patani to Warri and Koko, the Okowa administration has trod across the three senatorial districts of the state. Okowa seems to be one governor on a road mission. His people are applauding and a sportsman being cheered is certainly an encouraged athlete.
You are definitely wondering where all this is coming from, right? It is coming from the recently concluded annual Editors’ Summit in Asaba, Delta State. Yours sincerely was in Delta for six days. It was plenty of work and walk but it was fun too. It was the second time Delta State was hosting the All Editors National Conference (ANEC) and we knew we were going to be headed in different directions, just like the last time under former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. Just that this time, as president, I didn’t get to dodge under the cover of being Local Organizing Chairman. I had to lead from the front. That was how I ended up in the helicopter.
After inspecting the surface and underground drainages, I joined the team selected to go to the riverine areas. Because Governor Okowa was also mastering the roads in the creeks which is a good thing, except for the fact that I had to fly the distance from Asaba to Gbaramatu Kingdom. Ah. Don’t ask me if my heart skipped a beat or many beats. I am a President, whether with small or big P.
So, with our life jackets and headphones in place, off we sailed into the skies. Just that in a chopper, you can’t sail too high, just high enough to get a good view of the earth. And a good view it was of the rivers as they meandered through the villages into the sea. The smoke peeping through the clouds as the chopper banked to locate the coordinates, the natural beauty swept away my fear of this flight. I just soaked in the naturalness of it all, determined not to feel sad, like I usually do each time I came in contact with the poverty of Nigeria’s oil-rich region. But for Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, the calmness the visitor sees from the sky is not the bed the residents of the riverine areas slept in. For him, it was absolutely unfair and ungodly to take wealth from under the soil of a man and leave him impoverished. You pollute his water, contaminate his farmlands and leave his fishes floating, then spend that wealth building a good life for others? The governor decided if the riverine oil is sauce for the rich it should be sauce for the landlords of the oil. So roads in the rivers and the riverine were long overdue, he decreed. It would be a herculean task, his contractors, white, brown and black, told him. Then go get Hercules, he bellowed right back, rolling up his sleeves. Plenty plans and hundreds of millions of naira later, roads started emerging from the rivers.
From the account of one of the foreign engineers who now is more Ijaw than a European, ‘It is challenging constructing roads in this area. For instance, the 18.9 kilometre Obotobo/Yokri road meant getting a mobile asphalt plant.’
In Burutu and Ogulagha, the Team Helicopter saw some of the roads. We drove on a concrete road in the riverine. We walked on finely asphalted roads in communities surrounded by water. We heard the people sing their governor’s praise. They called him Ekwueme, a man who says it and does it. Okowa wants to be remembered as the governor who took development to the creeks and he seemed to be delivering on that campaign promise.
The highpoint of the trip for me was the courtesy visit to the palace of the paramount ruler of Gbaramatu Kingdom, HRM, Oboro Gbaraun II. The palace was a convergence of the ancient and the modern, the elegance of culture and the sophistication of the year of our Lord 2018. The furniture was modern, the apparels were both of the old and the new. And when His Royal Majesty emerged from his royal chambers, it was like being in the presence of the ancestors.
I can say it here in the safe confines of my back page but not in the presence of the Gbaraun. Even his beads alone were intimidating. Only the men were allowed to say those two words, on one bended knee too! I sat quietly like a good maiden. And when it was photo opportunity time, I was told nicely where to stand. A maiden (yeah, that’s me) is not allowed to stand next to the king. Not a problem at all. His Royal Majesty had wedged our kolanut appropriately. Having edited stories from Gbaramatu Kingdom from afar as the Sunday Sun Editor for five years, it was a great feeling walking the streets of Oporoza and sharing kola in the palace. As we walked briskly back to our chopper, I looked at the houses, the school, the people and tried to imagine the days when bombs, camps, militants and casualty figures were part of their days and nights.
The earth fell away as the chopper took off on our return journey to Asaba. I looked at my watch and realized it had been almost five hours, three stops at three communities and a short ride on a motorbike. Long and tiring but worth every drop of sweat.
ANEC 2018 was great in many ways. It was the first ANEC in 14 years to be declared open by a sitting Vice President. Prof Yemi Osinbajo promised he’d be there and he was. His speech was poignant, smooth, unforgettable. Journalism, like Law, is a profession under threat.
Thank you Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the good people of Delta State for being a great host to Nigerian editors from as far as Sokoto and thanks my Editor, for this space to say thank you.