Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Omon-Julius Onabu write that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State has made a deft move that caught many of political and opponents by surprise

Amidst apparent distraction from some leading politicians who previously served as members of the Delta State executive Council, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has cautioned those holding political appointments in his government against all forms of complacency or dereliction of duty because of their vested interest in activities towards the 2023 general election in the country.

Unabashed political activities in the state have become heightened in recent times, leading to growing suspicion between politicians loyal to Okowa and others who have queued behind Chief James Ibori, a former governor of the state.

In a veiled reference to why he dissolved the state executive council and numerous senior political appointees, Okowa stressed that they should ratther redouble their efforts to contribute to the administration to enable it deliver on the governor’s electoral promises and to climax that by finishing strongly.

The governor gave the charge at the Government House Asaba, while swearing in the new Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Chief Patrick Ukah as well as eight special advisers whose appointment was announced last week.

He cautioned appointees against abandoning their duties for politics of 2023, saying getting obsessed with 2023 politics could easily make them to lose track that could lead to negligence and dereliction of duty.

Rumours of the dissolution of the Delta State executive Council had been in the air since the beginning of the year. After a long waiting period and when many were convinced that Okowa had decided to work with the same team till the end of his tenure, he sacked the cabinet I a surprise move that caught them completely unawares.

Okowa said, “It is inevitable that politics will be played but, as much as possible, political appointees should endeavour to stick to their responsibilities and get a firm grip of the job at hand, he pointed out.

“At the end of this tenure, we shall all have reason to celebrate the legacy of a Stronger Delta, standing on the tripod of prosperity, peace and progress,” Okowa said.

However, the governor noted that he remained irrevocably committed to his administration’s avowed determination to finish strong in the interest of Deltans.

While congratulating the new SSG and the Special Advisers on their appointment, he noted that Ukah had been an integral part of his administration’s S.M.A.R.T, now Stronger Delta Agenda, having served as Commissioner in two state ministries since the beginning of his administration in 2015.

Okowa said, “He (Ukah), therefore, brings to the office of the SSG, a working knowledge of our policies and programmes and is well grounded to see to their effective implementation in his current position.

“But beyond that, the new SSG possesses an unpretentious mien, humble outlook, and bubbly personality that I believe will serve him well in this new assignment.

“I have always said that the office of the SSG requires a person who is able to marry policy – where the administration wants to go – and politics – how it mobilizes resources, personnel and the necessary support for the agenda of government.

“The SSG must not only have the capacity and competence to drive the administration’s policies and programmes, he must also be a consensus-builder and adept at managing various persuasions and handling conflicts, internal and external.

“Hence, it is required of any SSG to be broad-minded, accessible and flexible, with a good sense of fairness and justice.”

The governor added that he was proud of the job Ukah did in the two years he spent at the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education and the various committees that he had headed in the six years of his administration.

While expressing optimism that the SSG would continue in the same spirit of sacrifice, hard work and dedication, the governor admitted that there was no doubting the fact that the new office will present its own kind of challenge.

Nevertheless, Okowa said “I have always been impressed by Ukah’s willingness to learn and ability to adjust quickly to situations. It is, therefore, my expectation that he will justify the confidence reposed on him with this appointment.”

He charged the Special Advisers to discharge their duties in accordance with section 196 (Sub-section 1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“All of you are well acquainted with the key policy thrusts of this administration, hence, I expect you to work with a greater sense of urgency, unflagging enthusiasm, more creativity and innovative strategies to enable us successfully execute our policies and programmes for the greater good of all,” he added.

Responding on behalf of the new appointees, the SSG, thanked Okowa for the honour done them, and assuring that they would not betray the confidence reposed in them in discharging the statutory responsibilities.

Those inaugurated at the ceremony alongside the SSG included Dr Kingsley Emu as Chief Economic Adviser; Mr Omimi Esquire as Political Adviser; Chief Isaac Anwuzia as Political Adviser; Emmanuel Okoro as Special Adviser; Kelly Penawou as Special Adviser; Chief Andy Asawota as Special Adviser; Chief Edwin Uzor as Special Adviser and Chief Godwin Ogadi as Special Adviser.

But some critics have argued that even the new appointees are also neck deep in the politics of the state. Top politicians and their followers in Delta State are sharply divided between those who want a return to the zoning formula to decide the governor of the state and those who believe the contest should be open to all Deltans who are qualified and feel sufficiently persuaded to run for the office. An informed source said, “What the governor has done is an attempt to checkmate those he suspects may hinder his plan to handpick a successor. This governor fought his predecessor to a standstill over the issue of a successor. We do not think he should try to serve others thesame dessert he rejected.”

The thinking in some quarters is that Governor Okowa may be weighing a lot of options over reconstituting the Delta State executive council. The choice of the SSG, a seasoned administrator and tactical politician could mean that the governor wants to maintain a lean team, till the end of his administration, that will report to him directly and help his quest to finish strong. Another conjecture is that he will appoint new members of an executive council to serve between eight and 12 weeks to his exit as governor.