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Okowa’s last budget emphasises skill acquisition, jobs – New Telegraph

His administration came on stream in a most inclement economic, political and social weather, both at the national and international levels. The COVID-19 pandemic, plummeting oil prices and serious security challenges were all combined to derail the best economic blueprint. 

Senator Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa had all the components for a perfect storm capable of derailing his “Prosperity for all Deltans” and “Stronger Delta” agenda. But he has been able to weather the storms. He has even put up a very ambitious youth-centred programme to herald his exit from power as governor of Delta State.

Presenting the 2023 budget proposal to the State House of Assembly on October 27, 2022, the governor leaned heavily on the prime programme that enabled him to confront, head-on, the high rate of youth unemployment he inherited, through skills acquisition, job and wealth creation. For the over seven years he has superintended the affairs of Delta State, the economy has been facing headwinds from fiscal instability arising from huge debt overhang, runaway inflation, massive exchange rate depreciation, record high subsidy costs, high interest rates, insecurity, and food crisis.

In 2015 when he became governor, Okowa knew the path to sustainable wealth and job creation lay less through the provision and upgrade of infrastructure but more in equipping the younger generation with requisite skills required in a technological age. The multi-pronged entrepreneurship development programmes, include but not limited to Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP); Rural Youth Skills Acquisition Programme (RYSA); Girls Entrepreneurship Skills Training (GEST); Women Entrepreneurship Skills Acquisition Programme (WESAP) and ICT Youth Empowerment Programme.

The programmes have produced 13,510 new youth entrepreneurs from previously unemployed or under employed youths. After their training, they were further empowered with the necessary tools and working capital to establish their own businesses, while the Directorate of Mentoring and Monitoring provided counselling and guidance as they navigate their way in the world of entrepreneurship.

An additional 223,905 direct jobs were created through multi- faceted programmes and initiatives in skills development, skills upgrading, entrepreneurship training, microcredit, livelihood sustenance, business support grants, market linkage support and public service jobs placement. Furthermore, a total of 1,325,750 indirect jobs were also created from ancillary and multiplier effects of public infrastructure works, public private partnership (PPP) investments, sector-specific programmes, community-level and local government-level projects, and youth empowerment grants and related programmes.

In spite of these successes, he is still bent on giving youths the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and budding employers of labour.

Addressing the lawmakers during the budget presentation, he said: “Our model entrepreneurship development programmes have produced multiple benefits and impacts in tackling youth unemployment, preventing youth restiveness, stimulating the agricultural sector, supporting and promoting micro and small enterprises. Even more significant is the inclusive nature of the programmes. All segments of Delta society – unemployed youths, workers, micro, small and medium enterprises, widows, Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), students, farmers and traders– were effectively covered, engendering inclusivity and sustainable development.”

The impact of the programmes has been profound on not just the youths but also on the economy of Delta State. In 2017, Delta State was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017 States’ Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria, while in 2020, the State was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Another benefit of the entrepreneurship development programmes is the growth and development of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) sector in the state.

To underscore the critical role of the various schemes in job creation, Okowa set aside N4.3 billion to enable more young men and women to benefit from the life-changing experience in 2023.

Altogether, N571.64 billion is projected for expenditure in 2023 with the tradition of more allocation going to capital vote. In sum, N336.1 billion, representing 52 percent of the budget is devoted to capital expenditure while N235.5 billion, 48 percent, goes to recurrent expenditure.

With profound effect on entrepreneurial skills engendered by the success of the skills acquisition schemes, Okowa needed to create strong and enduring institutions that will give vent to the legion of empowered young entrepreneurs including a clement environment for other investors. These were encapsulated in the Delta State Medium Term Development Plan, which was packaged in two phases.

The 2016-2019 first phase provided the overarching framework for development priorities and cardinal policies and programmes for economic, infrastructural, and human capital development. In the 2020-2023 second phase, emphasis was the Stronger Delta agenda aimed at consolidating the institutional framework for the success of the key programmes – job and wealth creation, peace building, agricultural reforms and industrialization, health and education reforms and urban renewal.

In addition to skills acquisition, the Medium-Term Plans focused on fiscal stabilisation, including reforms in revenue and spending in addition to supporting Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) through microcredit and training.

In critical public infrastructures, especially roads, bridges, and drainages for which Okowa has been universally dubbed the ‘Road Master’, the 2023 budget continues to place high priority on ongoing projects. Ongoing and completed projects numbering 883 cover a total length of 1,932.14 kilometres of roads, while drainage channels have a cumulative length of 1,035.95 kilometres. This is commendable considering the array of competing needs and the fact that his administration has gone through two cycles of recession.

Fifteen bridges are currently under construction across the state. This is in addition to already completed ones among which are the Ovwor-Effurun Bridge, Oha- Orerokpe-Oviore Bridge, Agbarho-Orherhe Bridge and bridges at rail crossing in Boji Boji Urban. 

A total of N111.4 billion has been set aside for the completion of some critical projects such as the multi-billion naira Orere Bridge and Access Road in Ughelli South Local Government Area, Trans Warri – Ode Itsekiri Bridges and Access Road Phase 1, Kwale-Beneku Bridge and Ayakoromor Bridge.

“They will continue to receive priority attention and shall be completed before the tenure of this administration expires in May 2023,” he said while presenting the budget estimates.

The contract for the Ayankoromor Bridge, which was recently repudiated by the government, has been re-awarded to another contractor. The dualization of Ughelli-Asaba Road, Sectors A and C2 are also expected to be completed in 2023.

Also coming on stream in the 2023 fiscal year is Okpanam Bypass linking Okpanam to Benin-Asaba highway. The Koka Flyover and Interchange, another flagship project of Governor Okowa, will be ready for commissioning in January 2023.

In the education sector, with the three new universities – Dennis Osadebay University, Asaba, University of Delta, Agbor and the Delta State University of Technology, Ozoro – having already commenced academic sessions, he vowed to continue the upgrade of their facilities and the provision of a conducive learning climate.

Notably, the construction of the Medical Sciences Building at University of Delta, Agbor, and Administration Building at School of Marine Technology, Burutu, is expected to commence in the 2023 fiscal year.

The sum of 17.7 billion has been earmarked for the Ministry of Higher Education.

Primary Education is to receive N5.2 billion while N1.3 billion has been provided for a counterpart fund for SUBEB. The Ministries of Secondary and Technical Education are allocated the sum of N11.4 billion and N7billion respectively.

One of the strategic thrusts of the medium-term development plan, Okowa explained to the state’s law makers while presenting the 2023 budget estimate, is the creation of an operating environment conducive for Public-Private Partnership investments.

The concessioning of the Asaba airport has demonstrated the benefits and potential in a well-articulated public-private partnership programme. It has put the airport on a stronger footing and transformed it into one of the best airports in Nigeria. At present, the Asaba Airport has moved up from 15th position to sixth in terms of passenger traffic, and recently won an award as one of the Best Regional Airports in Africa. At least 80 per cent of the staff employed by the concessionaire is Deltans. In addition, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility, the company is providing street lights from Okpanam to Head Bridge of Asaba-Benin highway as the former one has been vandalized.

sible, the governor said, by the massive investment the state government made to upgrade the facilities at the airport. This administration had to fully rehabilitate and reconstruct the runway, taxiway, and other ancillary works, completed the perimeter fence, and removed the hill beside the airport for the provision of obstacle free zone for the runway as demanded by the regulatory authority. Subsequently, the airport was upgraded to Category 6, which enables aircraft as large as the Boeing 737 to land. In addition, this administration completed the installation of the Instrument Landing System and the Airfield Ground Lighting System, to enable it to handle night operations.

The Norsworthy Farms in Akwukwu-Igbo and the Aboh Ogwashi-Uku Agro Industrial Park are two of the projects, which have come on stream.

Sitting on 1,203 hectares of land, Norsworthy Farm is a partnership between Agro-Allied Industries and the Delta State Government. The Farm has the potential of becoming one of the leading palm oil producers in Nigeria providing superior and high-quality palm produce. Aside from bridging the shortfall in oil palm supply in the country, it will foster development within the host communities, create thousands of direct and indirect jobs for the people as it is already doing, and develop the oil palm value chain.

The Agro-Industrial Park, whose construction has reached 65 per cent completion, will be a game-changer and growth pole for the agricultural economy. The envisaged impacts include creating markets and wealth for smallholder farmers, industrializing agriculture, stimulating efficient farm technologies and creating thousands of direct and indirect jobs along the agricultural value chain. Upon take-off, the park will eliminate the infrastructure and operational bottlenecks to agro-industries, bring down agro-industrial business costs, guarantee markets and incomes for our farmers and create thousands of direct and indirect jobs along the agricultural value chain.

At the Kwale Industrial Park, the government, in partnership with Eastern Metals Limited (EML), has concluded arrangements to establish a nail factory with 10 percent of the equity going to the Government of Delta State. EML, a successful company that is into metals, steel and nail production, has invoices from reputable offshore companies for supply of nails from its offshore subsidiary. This partnership is a response to that growing demand. The 10 percent equity investment by the State, which translates to $3.1million, is to facilitate and de-risk the investment.

Despite the challenges associated with elections and campaigns, especially with his status as the vice presidential flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Okowa has maintained that governance will continue until his final day as Governor of Delta State. On an optimistic note, he told the State’s law makers his vow will not only be upheld but that budget 2023 has adequate safety valves to ensure that the cardinal objectives and targets are achieved.

“Essentially, the goal of the 2023 Budget is to ensure that the gains of this administration are consolidated and expanded. Ongoing projects must be completed while new ones must come on stream. Notwithstanding the persistently challenging external conditions, it is incumbent on the leadership to address the socio-economic needs of our people and ensure that their legitimate aspirations are realised,” he said.

*Mordi writes from Asaba




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