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Delta State Governor Okowa and His 1,500 Political Aides

Governor Okowa

Image: Governor Okowa

Last week Friday, I stumbled on a Daily Trust report that says the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa administration has created and filled putative vacancies for 1,500 political aides in Delta State.

The story details that Okowa and his deputy have appointed more than five executive assistants, hundreds of senior special assistants and personal assistants, into special duties, media/press, protocol, security and other political offices.

To put it mildly, this is a jobs-for-the-boys scheme run amok. It is the metastasizing of assistant overload. It is an overkill that screams at itself!

Half of that number, a crowd of 750, would still have been a proper outage. But we are talking about 1,500 –a stampede of political assistants!

But this oddity, incredible as it is, could get even worse. Okowa, the maniacal recruiter, is only five months old in office. He has three and half more years left on his tenure; which is an ample span of time to add extra thousands of aides to his orbit. We could even predict the shape of things to come by algebra. Okowa hired 1,500 aides in four months: how many will he wind up with in four years?

Okowa will hire –drum roll, please –18, 000 political aides!

That endpoint in insanity seems unlikely. It is simply too awkward a possibility to conceive. But who can bet that 1,500 is Okowa’s high-water mark?

Before now, the orgy of 1,500 aide recruitment was unimaginable. Okowa has now transposed that presumed impossibility into reality: And he managed to do it in a mere four months.

So, this might be a mere foreplay. Okowa, the prolific aide hirer, could actually escalate this affair!

The Nigerian governor wields a carte blanche that roughly translates to omnipotence. He can conjure jobs out of thin air. He can employ and deploy by uttering his wish. Yet, Okowa’s collection of 1,500 political aides is the most extreme stretch of the power of gubernatorial magic.

For a start, Okowa’s 1,500 appointments is a fraud. Only a tenth of his hires could have had possible openings that warranted their occupation. The individuals of this subset might have responsibility for performing routines that are somewhat relevant to government operations. The remnants of the coterie do not have any real functions. They hold fictive sinecures that magnet unmerited wages to their bank accounts.

To Okowa’s luck, his private pocket does not cater for his aides. The taxpayers underwrite the bill of his hires. Whether they stagnate at 1500 or rise to the potential 18,000 mark, his picks are the burden of Delta people.

This means that every lunar month, Okowa throws the funds that would have built five modest libraries in different government secondary schools into the concentric rings of his cronies. He sacrifices this generation’s future to current consumption. This is robbery, by another name!

To be sure, Okowa would not have proceeded to amass this legion of hangers-on if he was going to maintain them on his money. He would not pack this host of aides if Delta State was his private firm. He would not be so harebrained as to deliberately cultivate waste.

But, alas, this is government! Government business is no-man’s business. Government is the veritable laboratory for experimenting with all manner of foolishness that no decent private-owned establishment would abide.

This issue of Okowa’s 1,500 aides speaks to the perversion that is run in the name of state government across Nigeria. In many states, the vehicle for delivering public good to maximum number of citizens is grounded. What is running is in its place is a cult of prodigality.

The picture of the pervasiveness of this contortion is highlighted by the fact Okowa is the one interpreting the character of a wasteful fiduciary.

The job of a governor is not beyond Okowa’s ken. He has been Secretary and Chairman of Ika North-East Local Government. He has held diverse portfolios as Commissioner. He is a former Secretary to the State Government. He is also a former senator. He became governor on his second bid.

Yet, his cumulative experience has made him no better steward of public resources than a naive fumbler. If anything, his long years in public service appear to have inoculated him against prudence.

Okowa’s training as a medical doctor and proprietor of a private practice was supposed to reflect in his leadership philosophy. From his first day in office, he was supposed to administer Delta State as a hospital of sorts. His priority was supposed to be the patients.

His patients are youths who need the bridge of start-up capital to cross from idleness and crime into entrepreneurship. Farmers who need bags of fertilizer to increase their yield from one hectare. Villagers that thirst for a source of potable water.

But Okowa would not treat his patients. He would not help them convalesce. He would marginalize them and divert the resources meant for their treatment to his club of allies.

This indulgence in overstaffing strips Okowa of his je ne sais quoi. It leaves him looking like an impostor. Someone who can’t evince a shred of the evidence of a streak of exposures he had claimed recommended him as the best gubernatorial choice.

Now, if this act was enacted by Ekiti’s wild helmsman, it would have shocked nobody. Ayo Fayose appointed a stark illiterate to head a local government area. And everyone accepted with a sigh of resignation. Fayose is a self-confessed emeritus motor-park tout. He is generally considered the sufferer of a pathological strain that compels him to produce infinite farce.

But Okowa cuts the image of good breeding. It is pathetic that he is mirroring a spoilt, power-drunk daredevil.

Pray, what does Okowa need 1,500 political aides for? He is jumped-up? He needs a sufficient number of courtiers to prop up his vanity? He needs to feel more like a governor? He needs a surfeit of people jockeying to fetch and carry for him and his dependents?

The absurdity of Okowa’s outlandish recruitment becomes more abominable when juxtaposed with the prevailing economic realities. Oil revenue has tanked and the price of crude is projected to languish at $50 dollars per barrel till next year. Other state governors are making fiscal adaptations. They are cutting expenditure, blocking leakages and increasing efficiency of resource use.

Okowa himself acknowledged the other day that Delta State was looking increasingly beggarly. He told members of Delta State House of Assembly it was necessary to restructure the state loans to Federal Government bonds because ‘’the debt burden of the state was huge and beyond the contractual obligations, the commercial debts to banks and the repayment conditionality were quite strangulating.’’

It turns out that Okowa did not confine himself to ordinary irresponsibility. He didn’t just refuse to pare the state expenditures down to the barest minimum. He didn’t just fold his hands and play the passive fatalist.

He studied the ongoing famine and wondered what he could possibly do to aggravate it. He then figured he ought to afflict the state treasury with a plague of 1,500 political aides!

The superfluity of that number comes with the ramifications of privilege and entitlement. Okowa’s 1,500 aides would have official cars and sundry perks. And some of the aides may have authorization to hire their own aides too. This gives you an idea of vaulting glut.

The problem is that Okowa’s 1,500 aides add little or no value to governance. Many of them do not boast any capacity that can advance the incumbent government. They were tapped… in spite of their uselessness in public service.

Okowa corralled this population in the service of patronage. He hired this crowd as a show of gratitude for their contribution to his electoral victory. He invited them to feast on the trophy of their shared win. They don’t have to work. They have already labored to install the governor. That entitles them to a free salaries and allowances throughout his tenure.

This buys the loyalty of the election veterans. It ensures they have little incentive to defect to the opposition. And it is also fixes the next election. Because the success recipe stays within Okowa’s camp.

But the proportion of this aide deluge is revolting. It suggests to you that Okowa probably fetishizes the day he will have the dubious honor of declaring that Delta State has filed for bankruptcy!

My guess is that Okowa promised to create jobs during his governorship campaigns. He has not redeemed that pledge by infusing this scam into the state payroll. He has only succeeded in rigging the concept of job creation and manufacturing an alibi to make a monthly ritual out of funneling a part of public money to his loyalists.

He needs to dismiss his mob of ghost workers. The state payroll should accommodate only those who have a skill set that adds value to the economy. He can take care of the unemployed by creating real jobs. Or by creating a business climate that helps the private sector to thrive and hire.

Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu; @emmaugwutheman, emmaugwu.com

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