By Fred Edoreh
The inauguration of the new board of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, on Friday, May 26, turned out a carnival of sorts. Deltans from all the host communities thronged the Government House, Asaba, to welcome and celebrate the new members.
Many testified that their interest in DESOPADEC was because of how the immediate past board and management, guided by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s vision, redirected and drove the agency to impact on the social and economic development of the stakeholder communities through the delivery on various infrastructure and social amenities, from roads, bridges and jetties, to educational, health and housing facilities, security, human capital development and much more, giving fresh meaning to the establishment of the interventionist agency.
Central to the excellent performance was Bashorun Askia Ogieh, the Udu of Isoko Nation, who was Managing Director in the Michael Diden pace-setting board and later retained on extension still as Managing and Chief Executive Officer.
Unarguably steering the agency into the most innovative and impactful across Nigeria, it was such that sister agencies of various other oil producing states came to borrow leaves from the Askia-led management.
When the national Civil Rights Community came on an inspection tour of its projects in late 2022, their members had an interesting debate on which sector they thought the management did best.
Pointing at the construction and upgrade of facilities in both primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, some of them argued that the magic was more in education. The educational projects are in hundreds but many would not forget the Ogulagha Model Secondary School, a state of the art boarding affair which compares strongly with the bests in the world.
Others picked on health, pointing at the construction, refurbishment and equipment of various health institutions in the host communities. They were especially awed at the full option Cottage Hospital at Okibo Zion.
The Askia management made the healthists’ argument more compelling with the procurement and distribution of complete sets of medical and health delivery equipments to all 168 Primary Health Care Centres in the state in January 2023.
Some others picked housing, pointing at the construction of Civic Centres across major towns of the ethnic nations, but what stood out more for many was the ambitious development of the twin towns of Oboghoro and Utonlinla in Warri North, sand-claimed from the Benin River and complete with jetties, housing schemes, electricity plants and street lighting, water treatment plants, fully equipped health centre with doctors and nurses quarters, primary schools, a full boarding secondary school and a long concrete driveway with pedestrian bridges connecting Ogheye-Demigun, Oboghoro and Utonlinla communities.
Yet others picked on the extensive network of DESOPADEC roads, bridges and drainages too numerous to list across Urhobo, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ndokwa and Ika nations.
There are those who focused their judgement on DESOPADEC’s delivery in the development of agriculture and commerce, pointing to the support for farmers and traders and the construction of markets.
Many applauded the swift response of DESOPADEC in the evacuation and care of Deltans affected by the great flood of 2022. Not only did the agency proactively embark on the de-silting of drainages and clearing of water channels to mitigate the impact of the flood, it set up care centres for displaced persons across the oil producing areas and supported them with cash for resettlement on their return to their homes.
While DESOPADEC staffers take pride in these performances, their joy is more in the motivational and physical upgrade of their working environment, especially the completion of DESOPADEC Corporate Headquarters, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa Tower, in Warri, which eased inter-departmental relations; the regime of training and retraining of staff; and support for advancement in professional careers as hallmarked in the several awards and recognitions conferred on many of the staff by various professional bodies.
My take however is the investment of DESOPADEC on Waterways Security and peace building through the engagement of the youth in the protection of oil installations. Not many knew about this commitment by which Delta recovered operational stability in crude oil production and its prime place in revenue derivation.
Interestingly, at the inauguration of the new board, Governor Okowa, a champion and advocate of entrepreneurial empowerment and jobs creation, made a different and insightful pick. His choice was the establishment of the DESOPADEC Skills Academy which he wants sustained.
Commending the immediate past board for the initiative, he declared with all emphasis: “The icing on the cake for me was the establishment of the DESOPADEC Skills Academy, in line with the administration’s youth entrepreneurship development programmes. Through the Academy, the agency was able to train and empower many of our youths to become self-employed and wealth creators.”
Indeed, DESOPADEC keyed in on the vision for human capital development through the upscaling of skills acquisition, empowerment and high-end business development for youth and women, to raise an army of entrepreneurs towards revolutionising the socio-economic landscape of the oil communities.
Their strategy was dynamic just as the outcomes have been immediately impactful and continuing.
In the short time of its introduction, the Academy has graduated and empowered over 500 persons in three batches with the fourth batch currently in session while the feedback on the performance of the Alumni is tremendously inspiring.
Most assuring for its continuity is that the incoming Governor, Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, has been a witness and a partaker in the delivery.
He was at the matriculation of the fourth batch and, impressed by what he knew and what he saw, he pledged that not only would the Academy be sustained, its intake would be increased and the volume and value of their starter packs would be upscaled. This speaks to his agenda of MORE.
Governor Okowa was also impressed with the communication strategies of the agency. While he advised on their sustenance, he further urged the new board to maintain the collective exchange with host communities and critical stakeholders on needs assessment and determination of projects.
Reassuringly, the new board has a clear template and would not waste time in search of direction. As Okowa put it, it is a blend of youth, experience, grassroots politicians, technocrats and persons who readily believe in the vision for the development of Delta State.
This is demonstrated in the fact that Chief John Nani, the former Executive Director, Finance and Administration, was a contributor to the development initiatives and innovations of the Askia management and now returns as the Chairman of the board.
The new DESOPADEC team is made even stronger with the appointment of Hon Festus Ochonogor from Ndokwa/Ukwuani nation as Managing Director. While the appointment speaks to equity in the involvement of stakeholder groups in the management of the commonwealth, Ochonogor as former Commissioner for Housing comes with a niche of expertise and wealth of experience in projects management, quantification, cost management and procurement, and a deep understanding of the yearnings of the people and the politics of grassroots development in a multiplicity and diversity of stakeholders.