If there is any concrete evidence in Nigeria’s recent political history that supports the aphorism ‘simplicity is always more appealing than complexity, and faith always more comforting than doubt’, it is the rousing welcome-back-home party put together by Ika nation of Delta State for their illustrious son, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, the immediate past governor of the state, on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at Agbor.
Essentially, for keen political watchers, there is a reason that qualifies Okowa’s ‘triumphant welcome’ as both deserving and understandable.
Aside from his possession of people-focused leadership scorecard, particularly in the areas of infrastructural provisions and ray of socioeconomic accomplishments in the state, Okowa as governor for the past eight years sustainably demonstrated that in time of great uncertainty and public anxiety, any leader who combines simplistic policies with claims of divine guidance is more likely to escape difficult situations.
Predictably also, there is a particular group, a very vulnerable set in the state that would have wished Senator Okowa continued as the governor of oil-rich Delta State. They are Deltans that Okowa has shown in the past eight years of his administration that when there is a visionary leader, the people prosper and flourish and the community recovers. The membership of this particular group is 20,107. Most importantly, they are widows in the state captured under the Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme and paid a monthly stipend of N10,000, in line with Okowa’s Social Investment Programme.
In addition to the monthly payments, 535 of them that are very young and ready to work were, going by reports, trained in various skills/fields of endeavours and provided with starter packs.
For a better understanding of the piece, a widow, going by reports, is a woman who has lost her husband by death and has not remarried. Widows are invisible in society. They are scattered across the globe, owing to their condition and the enormous challenges, reproach and shame the majority of them are undergoing. For widows to secure expectation by keeping their hopes alive by way of feeding, providing accommodation and qualitative education for their children, they must assume the position of their dead husband who happened to be the breadwinner.
While this piece sympathizes with the widows for the excruciating pains they pass through in our society, the above revelation, more than anything else, objectively explains why the Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme is not a political matter but a moral and socioeconomic issue that positively impacts humanity and, therefore, cannot be discarded.
Thus, the question that is as important as the piece itself is: how will the Sheriff Oborevwori-led administration sustain this laudable initiative?
For me, the answer to sustainability is embodied in a 2022 interview Elder (Dr) Isioma Okonta, Okowa’s Senior Special Assistant on Social Investment Programme and Coordinator of the Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme, granted to Ika Weekly Newspaper, a well-respected community tabloid based in Delta State.
Okonta in that interview gave a background to how the state government decided on a life-changing scheme, widely known as ‘Widows Alert’, in 2018 to provide succour and wipe the tears of widows, remedy their despair and perplexity, and assuage their hunger. He explained that the initiative of the governor focused on taking care of the poor and vulnerable widows in Delta State across the state’s 25 local government areas.
Okonta said: “The communities are touched by this programme as it 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 borne by His Excellency, the governor, by way of the Delta State contributory healthcare. So, even if the widows have to undergo surgical operation, it is free of charge.”
On how the state tracks those that are real widows, he explained that the names of these widows were drawn from the communities and the state makes sure the community leaders are involved to help 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,” he said.
Okonta stressed that the governor brought in a consultants “to conduct an integrated service. They were saddled with the responsibility of coming up with an electronic database of widows across Delta State. So, today, they have rounded off 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.”
On Okowa’s style of supporting the project, he captured it this way: “There is a feedback mechanism that has been set up by him. The structure we have today in the widow’s welfare scheme has been set up solely by 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.
“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, 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 as a day to remember the issue of widows.
“The governor is the first Chief Executive among the 36 states in the federation to observe this day. 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 the Chief Executive Officer take care of widows only in seasonal times, like Christmas and Easter or during electioneering periods. But Okowa made sure that the issue of widows is brought to the front burner. This Okowa programme for widows has come to stay.”
On my part as the author of this piece, I also think that the lesson Oborevwori must draw from the above account is that efforts to rescue the people, particularly the vulnerable, cannot be accomplished through ordinary vision, but requires a leader who is reputed for being ahead of his time and looks to the future; one who does not only dream, but has a true vision and follows the right development path – a leader who will lead his people to a better future.
The issues affecting these widows must not remain unaddressed.
*Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), The Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He could be reached via [email protected].