Okowa: From The Cradle To The Pinnacle

The truism of the wise crack above is truly effectively reflected in the life of Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, who, from the cradle, has virtually ascended the crescendo of Nigeria’s polity.
The political journey of Senator Okowa, and the associated success, like the proverbial tree in the above wise crack, did not spring and flourish overnight; it is the product of a mind consistently at work on the various elements that constitute and ensure enduring all-round success. And, like all success stories, the journey has not been without consistent sprinkling of sacrifice and the other elements that beget the type of political progress that Okowa has come to epitomise today.
Born on July 8, 1959 in Owa-Alero, in what is now Ika North-East Local Government Area of Delta State, Senator Okowa attended Iroro Primary School, located in the community. He later attended the famous Edo College, Benin City, Edo State, from 1970 to 1976, at the end of which he earned the Higher School Certificate (HSC), placing an enviable second on the chart of top-flight all-round performers in all of what was then Bendel State (now Delta and Edo states).
Armed with this academic feat and the enabling documentation, Okowa proceeded to the University of Ibadan – Nigeria’s first university on account of age of founding – to study Medicine. That was in 1981. He earned the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) at a historic age of under 22, and later did the National Youth Service Corps Scheme (NYSC) in 1982.
On completion of his NYSC duty call, Okowa briefly went into medical practice as a medical officer on the payroll of the defunct Bendel State Hospitals Management Board (HMB).
However, it was apparent that not all of his professional aspiration could be met within the context of public sector medical practice. Consequently, in 1986, Okowa opted for private medical practice and founded Victory Medical Centre, Igbanke in Orhionmwon Local Government Area of Edo State; a branch of the centre was later founded in Owa-Alero, his ancestral home.
As a medical officer, Okowa enjoyed the opportunity it afforded him to serve the public. Yet, there was something in him that kept gnawing at his conscience – his real essence – the opportunity to raise the decibel of his service to the public. He was later to find this expression in politics, into which he plunged with the missionary zest and altruism that he had earned even as a medical officer of health, in and out of the public sector.
Soon after he went into partisan politics, Okowa created a niche for himself and established a reputation for diligence and prompt initiative-the very virtues that ensured his speedy appointment as Secretary of Ika Local Government. Following the split of what was the Ika Local Government Area into Ika South and Ika North-East Local Government areas on August 27, 1991, on account of the creation of Delta State from what was then Bendel State, that day, Okowa was elected Chairman of Ika North-East Local Government. He held this position from 1991 to 1993, when the military putsch, led by despot Sani Abacha, toppled the Interim National Government (ING) led by former United African Company of Nigeria (UACN) helmsman, Chief Ernest Shonekan.
The Abacha coup of November 1993, led to the dismantling of all democratic structures in the country and the return of the military to the mainstream of Nigeria administration, especially politically.
However, in the face of local and global antagonism in lieu of the necessity to return to civil rule, the Abacha administration was soon eased out of office by the government of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, which soon instituted a political transition programme for the restitution of civil rule. It was under the aegis of the Abubakar administration’s transition programme that civil reberthed in Nigeria in 1999, by which time Okowa, just as some of his contemporaries in the Grassroot Democratic Movement (GDM) that was established under the aegis of the ill-fated political transition programme of Sani Abacha, had largely honed his political skills. It was little wonder, therefore, that he was to play a major role in the subsequent political activities in the state.
At the return of civil rule to Nigeria in 1999, Okowa’s pedigree stood him out as a worthy leadership material, with particular slant on organisational prowess, even among his co-founders of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State. On account of his resourcefulness, Okowa was named the Coordinator, Delta North, for the Chief James Ibori Campaign Organisation. Ibori, then a private sector consultant, beat Chief Moses Kragha of the now defunct All People’s Party (APP), to be elected the second Executive Governor of the state, after Chief Felix Ibru. The rest, as they say, is history.
Following the gubernatorial victory of Ibori, Okowa was named Secretary of the Transition Committee which laid the foundation for the then in-coming Ibori administration. After the constitution of the State Executive Council (EXCO), Okowa was assigned the portfolio of Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources and held that position from July 1999 to April, 2001. Upon the reshuffling of the EXCO, he was deployed to the Ministry of Water Resources (April 2001 to May, 2003, when the first term of office of Governor Ibori ended).
In the second term in office of Governor Ibori, Okowa was named Commissioner for Health (September 2003 to October 2006) until he resigned to vie for the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP for the 2007 general elections.
In spite of his loss and subsequent inability to actualise his 2007 governorship, Okowa never said die; he kept the faith, and in what has become a positive reference point in politics of the state, helped Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan-who beat him to the PDP gubernatorial ticket in 2007, to win the governorship poll. This trait-and perhaps many related others-helped him become the Director-General, Uduaghan Campaign Organisation, and, arising from the subsequent election victory of Uduaghan, was named the Secretary of the Transition Committee on the handover of the political power baton set up by the incoming Uduaghan administration.
In Africa, it is said that the good wine needs no bush; Okowa’s virtues, like ubiquitous air, soon earned him the post of Secretary to State Government, under Uduaghan, but resigned the position to contest for the ticket of the PDP for the Delta North Senatorial seat for the 2011 general elections. With regard to the primary for the PDP Delta North Senatorial Zone ticket held in January of that year, Okowa, in the rerun, beat Dr. Mariam Ali, wife of the former National Chairman of the party, by 1,446 votes to 108. He went on to beat the candidate of the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP), Barrister Ned Munir Nwoko, by 98, 140 votes to 67, 985 votes. Following this victory, Okowa was returned to the Senate, the upper chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral legislature, for a four-year term that was to consolidate his political experience and imbue him with the repertoire of legislative experience that is providing strategic in his administrative arsenal.
In the Senate, Okowa’s pedigree won the hearts of not a few, and made its leadership to name him head of the strategic Senate Committee on Health. In respect of his headship of this all-important committee, Okowa, in collaboration with other stakeholders, held the first and second National Summits on Health in Asaba and Benin, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This is aside of the legion other revolutionary bills introduced into the health care system of the country, including the National Health Insurance Scheme.
In spite of his spectacular performance in the Senate, Okowa never lost his focus on the ultimate political trophy in the state-Government House, Asaba- and worked stridently towards that realisation. Like the experienced hunter stalking his prized game, Okowa kept his political gunpowder dry, while awaiting the big game, which eventually came on a day he shone in full political radiance.
As is now history, Okowa, in spite of all odds, won the December 8, 2014 PDP gubernatorial primary in Asaba, beating all others in a packed field. Following that victory, he mounted a high-heel campaign that capped in his victory in the April 11, 2015 governorship poll, beating resilient ubiquitous candidate, Great Ovedje Ogboru of Labour Party, and O’tega Emerhor of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Okowa’s victory in the poll was historic in several ways: It defied the bandwagon effect conventional with Third World politics by the overrun of the APC (which candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, had won the March 28, 2015 presidential poll over the PDP’s flag bearer and subsisting President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan) as well as veteran gubernatorial contender, Great Ogboru, and equally confirmed the political sagacity and resilience of both Delta PDP and its candidate, Okowa. Such a feat is not common place, except among the truly smart; Okowa has, by that victory given vent to his effective representation of his SMART development agenda.