On the 27th of August next year, Delta State will be 25 years old. Carved in 1991 out of the old Bendel State, formerly Mid-West Region, Deltans may be forgiven for feeling that their state is a much riper half-a-century-and-two years old. As heirs of the pace-setting Western Region of which they were part until 1963, they hanker after visionary governance which places service over self and enduring development over money-sharing contract bazaars. Moreover, as Mid-Westerners, they were proud beneficiaries of the first fruits of the struggles of minorities for self-determination in the fledgling Nigerian nation. In a sense, Dennis Osadebey House, the seat of its government, is a monument to the sort of micro-nationalist struggles aimed at fulfilling the promise of federalism in a multi-ethnic nation-state.
Indeed, it is remarkable that before becoming a leader of the movement for, and then premier of, Mid-West, Osadebey was leader of opposition in the Western Region parliament. The governing Action Group enjoyed the reputation of a dynamic and forward looking party whose welfarist and rapid modernisation programmes were a model of postcolonial transformation. Osadebey’s opposition role is best seen, then, as having been in vital service to democracy, which makes all too glaring the anomaly of one political tendency’s strangle-hold on the governance of his eventual home state, Delta. The Peoples Democratic Party’s power monopoly has been nothing short of a heart attack to the “Big Heart” state, as it has been to the country. The vulgar notion of power for its brute sake and obscene self-enrichment has become the ethos of the state’s politics. I have sometimes wondered if this lamentable outcome is not attributable to the absence of a principled and charismatic political personage, commanding the loyalty and respect of the majority by dint of unwavering commitment to the collective good.
For other than the 22 months of Felix Ibru’s forgettable inaugural stint, Delta’s governors have had their tutelage entirely under military administrators. For good measure, the state was created by General Babangida — serial coup-plotter, arch-enemy of democracy and self-confessed evil genius — in a manner that managed to displease even the most ardent agitators. Many swear that Babangida had intended it as a gift to his wife who came from Asaba. It was as if the gravitas that attended the creation of Mid-West had exhausted itself and all that was left for the heirs of Osadebey, Jereton Mariere, James Ekpre Otobo, among others, was comic mimicry.
Thus, for all its oil and gas, its highly trained and sophisticated indigenes, Delta State has one of the most uninspiring histories of governance. So much so that it can hardly justify the grossly inadequate but still considerable 13 percent derivation funds it receives as an oil producing state. Nothing, I think, demonstrates the abject state of Delta more than the blighted condition of Warri, its commercial capital. Since my school days at Federal Government College, the city has been in rapid decline. Today, it looks more and more like a vast undrained swamp in the peak of the rainy season than a city, or a town recovering from a decade-long war, or an open refuse dump (God, its unsanitary streets!), or all three things at once. Sadly, one can say the same thing of Sapele, Delta’s first commercial capital in the heyday of African Timber and Plywood and rubber plantations, not to mention Asaba whose capital status seems to consist entirely of tawdry hotels and bank branches established for government funds.
And then there is that constant reminder of Delta’s sorry state: the permanently-under-construction Asaba-Ughelli dual-carriage way, at one of whose many diversion roadblocks I nearly smashed myself to death earlier this year on my way to the silver jubilee dinner of the University of Benin’s Law Class of ‘89. What ought to be a showpiece state road linking the political capital with the commercial and industrial corridor of Ughelli-Warri-Sapele, is, alas, an utter embarrassment — not to mention the humiliation of an airport now downgraded by the civil aviation authorities to a mere airfield.
Obviously, some good things have been done in the state. I’m hard-pressed, however, to find much of transformative substance to applaud beyond, say, Governor Uduaghan’s schools rehabilitation and remodelling programme (“Rebuilding Our Schools Brick by Brick” (Vanguard, 12 December 2012). Still education in the state is in tatters, as I can testify on the strength of a writing workshop for secondary school students in Warri that I led with support from the International Institute of Education in February last year. The state-owned university ought to be one of the best in Africa, a leading centre of hydro-carbon and marine life research, if nothing else, but it couldn’t be ranked with a good community college (third-tier university) in the United States. I am almost always brought to tears by the desolate condition of its Oleh campus, by the fact that its Law and Engineering faculties remain deservingly disaccredited and is in danger of ceasing to be an institution of learning of any sort very shortly.
But back to the point. The spirit of oppositional politics which militates against stagnation is sorely needed in Delta State. The personalities that have held the state in thrall since inception, but in particular in the last sixteen years, have nothing more to offer. Their governing clique is too bound to the past and compromised, has grown too incestuous, to inspire hope. The most that can be said for it is that it has tried its best and that has not been good enough for the oil state of Delta. The change desperately needed to give Delta a new lease of life, to lift its people out of the gloom, despondency and poverty that wraps them like a cloud, requires new ideas and can only come from outside the vicious circle of the PDP’s freewheeling I-don’t-give-a-damn philosophy. Simply put, it is time Deltans embraced change for a renewal of their best dreams. Else, their state’s 50th anniversary will be as dismal, as bereft of cheer, as the 25th.