OKOWA HAS CHANGED PUBLIC LEADERSHIP NARRATIVE IN DELTA STATE — Elder (Dr) Isioma Okonta, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Delta State on Social Investment Programme
During a recent interview with Ika Weekly Newspaper, Honorable (Mrs.) Vivian Ijeh, Special Assistant to Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta state, among other remarks while eulogizing the Governor, said in parts; could you believe that the widows in Delta State are receiving salary? He made the widows happy. He gave them a sense of belonging. He has done well in the area of the women; in empowering the youths through skill acquisition. He has done so well especially in touching people’s lives. Before, we hardly see situations where women were carried along in the scheme of things. But presently, Governor Okowa carries the women along; he makes us feel equal to the men.
To establish the veracity of the above claim, the newspaper sought, and got an interview opportunity with Elder (Dr) Isioma Okonta, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Delta State on Social Investment Programme and the State Project Co-Ordinator, Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme and Technical Head, Livelihood Support Unit of the NG-CARES WORLD BANK Project.
Aside from answering all the questions thrown at him without delay, the interview Contrary to expectation was for reasons more revealing than expected
First, Okonta at the interview reviewed how the state government has paid 5607 widows’ monthly stipend since 2018, and provided Free Health Care benefits for the teaming poor and vulnerable widows.
Secondly, he showed how His Excellency, brought in consultants and saddled them with the responsibility of coming up with an electronic database of widows across Delta State. Noting that today, they have rounded up their work and the state according to their report, has over 50,000 widows in the Delta State widow’s electronic database.
Thirdly and very fundamental, Elder Oknota used the opportunity provided by the interview to demonstrate his loyalty, and appreciation to Governor Okowa, whom he described as his political mentor.
Before the interview proper, it will be highly rewarding to understand more the background of Elder (Dr.) Isioma Daniel Okonta, the State Coordinator of the Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme and a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Delta State on Social Investment Programs.
Born to the family of Late Chief and Chief (Mrs.) Alfred Okonta of Abavo in Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State, elder Okonta attended Odili Primary School Agbor and did his Secondary Education at Ika Grammar School, Agbor graduating 1979. He had a brief stint as a Teacher at Obika Primary School, Ime-Obi, Agbor and Gbenoba Grammar School, Agbor before travelling to the United States of America in the year 1982.
In the United States, Elder Okonta attended Houston Community College, in Houston, Texas. He graduated with an Associate Degree in Accounting in 1984.
He proceeded to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated SUMA CUM LAUDE, Nigeria equivalent of First-Class Honour’s in Accounting in 1988. Dr. Isioma Okonta was recruited by Caterpillar Incorporated in Peoria, Illinois to work in Japan towards the end of the final year of his graduation. He opted to go into private Business.
In 1990, Chief Okonta along with his brother Kas Fidelis Okonta, started Steaks to go into a Franchise Company in Roswell Georgia as Franchisors. Several Franchise Outlets where Opened, in Atlanta, Georgia; Marietta, Georgia; Smyra, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee and Other cities. The Company was recognized as one of the 500 “hottest” Franchise Companies in the World Famous “Entrepreneur Magazine”, and also named Top 100 “hottest” start-up Franchises in Black Enterprise Magazine. Elder Daniel Isioma Okonta is the Co-President/ CEO and founder of the Company.
In 1999, Political democracy returned back to Nigeria. Because Elder Okonta has Passion for lives and interest in the Socio-Political development of his community and Nigeria as a Nation, he returned back to Delta State, Nigeria to join the politics of the day. Chief Isioma Okonta ventured into the murky waters of politics and Joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the year 2002. He quickly listened to advice from his political associates and joined the “Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa” Political Family.
His Excellency Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa graciously began to mentor him and tutor him to learn the intrigues of Politics.
In the year 2005, Chief Isioma Okonta was elected member of the Delta State Executive Committee of PDP as the Delta North Organizing Secretary of PDP during the Governor Ibori Administration.
In 2008, he was appointed as a member of the Governing Council of Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Ukwu, when the current Vice Chancellor of Delta State University Abraka, Prof. Andy Egwunyega was Rector of the Polytechnic.
In 2009, he was appointed Special Assistant to Governor Uduaghan, attached to the Office of then Secretary to State Government, His Excellency Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa.
In 2010, Elder Okonta was appointed Political Assistant to Governor Uduaghan in charge of Political Affairs in Ika South Local Government Area.
All these appointments were graciously facilitated by His Excellency, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa.
In the same year 2010, the then Secretary to State Government, His Excellency Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, sponsored Elder Isioma Okonta to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to attend a 30-day Management and Administrative Course at the prestigious “African Institute of Management.”
Soon after this, His Excellency, Senator Dr Okowa resigned as SSG to contest for the Senatorial Seat of Delta North. Elder Okonta was appointed Director of Administration and Finance, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa campaign organization. That Election was won by Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, and he was subsequently Sworn-in as Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the year 2011.
In 2011, Elder Dr. Isioma Okonta was appointed as the Director Administration/Finance, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, Constituency Office, Asaba.
In the year 2012-2014, Chief Okonta was appointed the Chairman Oil and Gas Monitoring Committee in Abavo Kingdom where Pan Ocean Oil Corporation is implementing oil and gas exploration activities.
In the year 2017, His Excellency Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa the Executive Governor of Delta State initiated the Delta State Widow Welfare Scheme and appointed a 3-man Committee led by Honourable Commissioner Henry Sakpra as Chairman, Hon Festus Ochonogor (the current Commissioner for Housing) as member, and Elder Isioma Okonta as Committee Secretary. The Governor also graciously approved the appointment of Elder Okonta as a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Special duties, Government House, Asaba
In 2019, the Governor of Delta State re-appointed Chief Isioma Okonta into the Widows Welfare Scheme, no longer as Secretary of a Committee but as the State Coordinator of the very successful Widows Welfare Scheme. The Governor also appointed Elder Isioma Okonta as a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Social Investment Programmes.
To the glory of God, he has been rewarded with several awards, certificates, and recognition including the best graduating student from the Destiny Bible Institute, Agbor, Humanitarian Services Award by the Rotary Club Government House, Asaba for his contribution to the welfare of widows in Delta State, and the prestigious Niger Delta 16th Annual Humanitarian Award, an award for humanitarian services by the national association of cosmetologist, patron Delta initiative forum amongst others. Recently, Clemson Christian University in Germany through her affiliate Christian Global University awarded Dr. Isioma Okonta a Doctorate degree (Honorary Cauris) in recognition of his humanitarian activities concerning the widows in Delta State.
Elder Isioma Okonta is also a titled Chief of the Abavo Kingdom in Ika South L.G.A.
Elder Dr. Isioma Daniel Okonta is happily married to Chief (Mrs.) Benedicta Ijeoma Okonta, MD/CEO Venant Cosmetics Nig. Ltd. The marriage is blessed with 3 daughters; Anthonia, Ellenina and Covenant.
The interview was anchored by Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi, Ika Weekly’s Special Project Officer with unalloyed support from the Publisher Assistant, Mrs. Theresa Ashien.
It is a must read. Enjoy it.
Good day Sir. How are you and the family?
We are doing ok and you?
I am very fine. Let’s go straight to the business of the day as we are here to spend time not to waste it. So, we have a culture of letting our personality that is being interviewed introduce himself/herself so our readers will understand his background very well.
Can we start with that sir?
Thank you. My name is Dr. Isioma Okonta. I am the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Delta State on Social Investment Programme. I am the technical head of the World Bank lively Support show. I am the State Project Co-Ordinator, Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme and Technical Head, Livelihood Support Unit of the NG-CARES WORLD BANK Project.
That sounds lovely and very interesting. You are doing a whole lot for the state. But, if I may ask, before now, have you functioned at any capacity in the state?
Yes. In the past, I have been a member of the state Executive Committee of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I was the Political Assistant to His Excellency, Governor Uduaghan. I was a member of the government council of Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi. I was the Special Assistant to Governor Uduaghan assigned to the then SSG – Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. So, I have held some positions in government.
From the explanation given above, it seems evident that you have been working with His Excellency, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, for a very long time.
Oh yes. Beginning with my entry into politics in 2001, when I came back from the United States of America (USA). I have been in his political service. So, he has groomed me politically by the grace of God; even when he was SSG in 2010. He sent me to an administrative course in Dubai for thirty days to learn about administration. So, I have been with him for quite some time.
Ok sir. So, let us go to the main kernel of this conversation, which is the windows management affair. What is it all about?
The Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme was initiated by the governor in 2018 and the scheme is about taking care of the poor and vulnerable widows in Delta State and to cut across the 25 Local Government Areas and it works all across Delta State. So, you can see that the Communities are touched by this programme.
This program is non-political and this programme is cut across religious lines. The programme takes care of stipends of the widows monthly and also there is a third scheme attached to it. The widows can benefit from free healthcare. The premium of this healthcare is born by His Excellency, the governor by way of the Delta State contributory healthcare. So, even if the widows have to undergo surgical operations, it is free of charge. And we have 5,607 widows enrolled in this scheme.
Wow, this is amazing. But before we go on sir, this is a country where anybody can do anything to get instant gratification. Bearing this in mind, How do you track those that are real widows and those who are dramatizing it for peculiarly gain?
Thank you. Thank you very much. Like I told you, the names of these widows before now were drawn from the communities in Delta State. And we also make sure because it is a community driven programme, we make sure the community leaders are involved to help us ascertain the veracity of the widows. To those that are saying they are widows, indeed and to those that are saying they are poor and vulnerable widows, the community leaders are there to ascertain those points. So, we do not draw up a list without making sure the community leaders are cross checking the facts. And recently, His Excellency, the Governor brought in a consultant and they should conduct an integrated service. They have been saddled with the responsibility of coming up with an electronic database of widows across Delta State. So, today, they have rounded up their work and we have over 50,000 widows in the Delta State widow’s electronic database. So, we now have a compendium of widows that have been electronically generated. This database is used as veritable tools for the government to make decisions and plans concerning the widows.
Fine and Great. Though, like you said earlier on, that the programme is his Excellency’s brain child but that will not stop me from asking this question. How supportive has he been to you?
The Governor is the reason for the success of the programme. You know, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is an astute Chief Executive, and for every aspect of governance that is involved, there is feedback mechanism that has been set up by him. Whenever there is a programme, the governor doesn’t just keep the programme. He pays attention to every detail of the program. The structure we have today in the widow’s welfare scheme has been set up solely by Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. Apart from me being the State Coordinator, there are three supervisors, each supervisor is in charge of each senatorial district in every local government, there are two Coordinators that are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the affairs of these widows and we have very little or no complaint coming from the widows. Dr. Okowa is the reason why the program is successful.
Yes, thank you so much. For the sake of clarity and in the interests of our readers, I have to put this question across. In a synoptic form, what are your achievements within these rectified periods under review?
Oh, thank you very much. It’s a very good question. When you look at before 2018, the issue of widows in Delta state was not known by anybody. Widows are part of our society that nobody cares about. Their welfare was not taken care of by anybody. Then, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa changed the narrative. When he came in, he was able to make sure that the poorest of the poor among these widows had their issues brought to the front burner. Now, every year on June 23rd, we participate in International Widows Day. They have been recognized by the United Nations, a day to remember the issue of widows. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is the first Chief executive among the 36 states in the federation to observe this day. Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is the only governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria that has a programme of this nature where widows are paid monthly, where the healthcare benefits of these widows are taken care of monthly. In other states, you might have a Chief Executive Officer of Widows only in seasonal times, like Christmas and Easter or during electioneering periods. But Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has made sure that the issue of widows has been brought to the front burner. What happens with this? There are a lot of violent crying out there from elements brought about by wrong parenting, when a home loses a father, remaining only the woman, and the woman is not able to take care of the children. What happens to the children? It is either the young girls go into prostitution and the young boys go into robbery. They go out there, trying to swindle people. When Dr. Okowa started taking care of widows, you can see that the narrative has changed and the life of these widows have witnessed a new beginning. So, a lot of landmarks have been set since the widows in Delta State has become part of the political system.
thank you so much. Though you have touched it in parts but holistically, but do you think His Excellency, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has performed?
He has reached out to life. He has touched the untouchable. He has dropped Delta State from a point where the roads are not motorable to a point where there is massive construction of roads everywhere. He has touched the youths in Delta State through several programmes. He has made sure that programmes for the girl child have emanated in Delta State where the girl child is no longer dependent on her parents. Business opportunities have been provided for them.
Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has made sure that there is peace in all those areas. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has done well. The issue now is who comes after him by next year? Would that person follow his footstep?
Sir, looking at commentaries, the governor has turned Delta State into a construction site and a feat that earns him the road master. Now, looking up. There is this clamour that he should go for presidency. The question is, Do you think has the capacity to be the president.
Anyway, I know you are a journalist, but I do not know you would ask such a question. Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is qualified to be the president. Look at the little time he went to conduct the congresses of the People’s Democratic Party. His transparency in the way he conducted those congresses. Look at Dr. Okowa, he has become a national figure. Wherever the man touches, it turns to gold. Every aspect of critical governance he has been involved in has been successful. The man is a calculative Chief Executive. And I think giving him the opportunity to become the president will be the best thing that has ever happened to this country. We need him. Recently, some of us came together, some of the politicians in Delta North and we formed a movement called Okowa Movement. It is a movement about Okowa’s ideology. It is a movement about good governance. That was what gave birth to “wherever Okowa goes, we go.” And it is a name we have given to him. It is the Okowa phenomenon. Whatever he does, he makes sure it is done correctly. And he doesn’t mince words when he gives directions and makes decisions. So, he is the kind of man the nation needs at this critical time. He has done it in Delta State and I think he can do it in the federation of Nigeria. He needs to be given the opportunity to take care of the problems of this nation. And when he attains such a feat, I think he will do very well. And it is in the hands of God.
Thank you so much sir. Now, back to your office. What structure are you putting on ground to ensure that the office lives beyond your administration and by extension, that of the governor. This question is important because we have seen in the past cases where once the governor goes, all his ideologies and efforts collapse.
I think what it entails is sustainability. You can see the Delta State widows’ welfare scheme. The question is “Can a governor come in and abandon such a scheme?” Will the governor have a rest? Widows that are paid every month and are expectant? Will that governor be able to rest and come in that there is no payment? I don’t think that the governor will have a rest. I think this program has come to stay. I think the way Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa structured this programme, anybody that takes over from him must keep the programme going. His Excellency in his wisdom again, has appointed the commissioner for humanitarian services. And of course, widows’ welfare is part of humanitarian services. So, you can see how detailed the governor is. You can see he is looking into ideal structures that will make sure the widows welfare scheme will not fade away. With the structures on ground by the governor, I think the programme is sustainable.
Now, let us talk briefly about Ika Nation. Currently, Ika nation is blessed with the state governor, CBN governor, Chief of Defence Staff among others. Do you think these three key personalities are synergizing enough? And, secondly, is Ika nation reaping the dividends of this office optimally?
Uhmmm. I think the socio-political leaders you just mentioned are doing very well. I believe they are synergizing very well and I think they have contributed to the political and socio-economic development of Ika nation. I think many things that are happening now, empowerment of youths from the governor and many other social things that the CBN governor and the economic based things that he is doing in Ika nation. They are glaring. You can see them. You can see the chief of Army Staff from Ika nation. So, I think their synergy is the same. They attend some occasions together. I have witnessed some of them. They have made the Ika nation proud. So, personally, I feel we should be happy with him.
Now Sir, I don’t know if you will be comfortable attending to this thorny issue that borders on rotation of governorship positions in the state among the three senatorial districts? Was there actually a power rotation arrangement in the state? Whether written or unwritten?
Ooh. You need to cut your clothes according to your size. Our revered leaders, His Excellency, the governor and all those party Chieftains are saddled with the responsibility of making sure that whoever takes over is somebody that the party structure has been part of and has confidence that will represent the interest of the entire Deltans.
Now, from this particular move flows the next question. What is your next political move?
I depend on these personalities. One is God Almighty, and one is Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. I follow directives through prayers to God Almighty and I also listen to the directives of my political mentor, the governor of this state. I am saddled with the responsibility of handling the world bank project and of course, I am currently in Port-Harcourt for a World Bank Seminar. So, my interest is making sure that the responsibilities and a duty the governor has given to me is carried out with utmost responsibility. I am also saddled with the responsibility of the Widow’s Welfare Scheme. So, you can see with these two programmes that I am very busy. I am not thinking in that direction. Let God Almighty direct me and let the governor direct me.
Thanks. But just before we go, what message do you have for the governor, His Excellency?
The message I have for His Excellency is my wish that he becomes the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To change what is going on in this nation today. We need people like him and I think he is carved out for that responsibility. I pray that God takes him there. That is my wish and message to him.
Now, to the youths in Ika nation and Delta as a whole.
To the youths in Ika nation and Delta as a whole, my message is for them to stay away from violence, to stay away from reckless living and also to concentrate on their life and make sure they live their lives in a God-fearing way. And now always bear in mind that Sen. Dr. Okowa has their welfare and wellbeing in mind.
Thank you so much. Just a word for your constituency, that is the widows. Those that you are managing.
The widows that I am managing, they are so happy, they are so glad. But their fervent prayer is this – that whosoever takes over from Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa come 2023 will follow the footsteps of Dr. Okowa. But the issue is that who will follow the footsteps of Dr. Okowa. It must be someone that is currently following Dr. Okowa. That is why the widows are saying “wherever Okowa goes, there they will all go.” Because the issue of their benefits from the widow’s welfare scheme is very important to them. Looking at 5,607 widows currently benefiting and over 50,000 people are expected to benefit. So, if they bring in a governor that doesn’t feel the scheme should continue. Then, the widows will back out from the system and the widows are very interested in who becomes the governor in 2023, And, their fervent prayer is that somebody currently following the process of Dr. Okowa so that when the person becomes governor, the person would definitely continue with the scheme. For where Okowa goes, there the widows will go.
And, that is how we are going to draw the curtain for today. Many thanks and God bless.