Chief Arthur Okorie Okowa, the father of the Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, is a retired principal. Pa Okowa, who leads Delta North Justices of Peace, JP, in this exclusive interview spoke on how his son started his political career and emerged as governor. He also spoke on the dwindling standard of education in Nigeria and the way out. Excerpts:
By Festus Ahon
How do you feel having your son as the governor of a complex state like Delta?
I sympathize with him but I know that God who called him at this time will see him through otherwise the state has been bastardized so much so with heavy debts. Anybody there as the leader has an uphill task; unfortunately the All Progressives Congress (APC) is now at the top, so who do we cry to? But God knows best, God will continue to see him through as I continue to pray and I pray that the price of oil should go higher so that allocation can go higher.
You trained the governor as a medical doctor and your expectation was for him to practice medicine. At what point did you encourage him to veer into politics and why?
He was working with the government before he left to start his own clinic. One day, our secondary school here was doing inter-house sports and I had to come with him.
He had a silver cup which he was to present to them. What surprised me was that as we were just arriving at the gate we were asked to park and they came; the entire students rose up and crowded him; they wanted to carry him up but I refused. So we marched to the place. After that inter-house sports I saw that he has an aura that was attracting the whole people, both students and the community to him.
I was in politics then and I told him you are going to go into politics. He laughed over it, but behind him they started a group here and brought him in. By the time he entered, the first thing was to attempt to go for the chairman of the council. Then they had not created Delta State, Ika South and Ika North-East were one local government.
I was following Chief John Oyegun on campaign for his governorship election. Then, someone, I don’t need to mention names, tried to push my son down. However, Oyegun asked him not to worry, he stepped down for the other man at Agbor who later became the chairman. We were lucky, at that time, they had to appoint an executive secretary and my son was appointed. That was how he started and I encouraged him until Oyegun told me they were going to create Delta State and that somebody else was running in our state, Chief Felix Ibru.
So I went and came with Ibru to our camp. By that time Delta State and Ika North-East had been created, Ifeanyi became the first chairman of the council. From there he went on. In the time of Grass-root Democratic Movement, GDM, in our local government, the party won the election and that was how he went on and there was no question of whether he should leave his medical practice it was almost natural and voluntary.
Have you had any cause to regret having your son as a politician since he started his political career?
No. Even though there were some challenges they were challenges that an intelligent man can cope with.
Do you have regrets not having access to him like you used to when he was a commissioner, SSG and senator?
When you become more important and you become the child of the state or even the nation I have no regret. I can call him on phone and I can meet him at times in his house, I can meet him at certain occasions. I am all right with that provided he takes care of me. I am no longer working and my pension is so meagre. If I tell you my pension you will laugh. My pension today from Delta State is N5, 700 (laugh).
What do you think is the magic wand behind his wide acceptability to Deltans?
Humility. He is so humble. He humbles himself before everybody. All the time he was commissioner he stretched his hands here and there to all the people and whatever you gave him to do, he did without fear or favour to anybody. A lot of people will come to say your son is so good and tell me of what he had done for them and so on and so forth. He was good to the people when he was commissioner; as SSG and even as a senator, he was so good. His constituency projects are scattered all over Delta State.
So many people today believed that Chief James Ibori who was governor between 1999 and 2007 gave him all the support because there was an alliance between the two of them. How true is this?
Ibori is still our friend, we still love him. Ibori gave doctor a very good push politically even though some people say if he loved him so much, what happened in 2007? Blood sometimes can be thicker than water, so he put his brother there and nobody could blame him. When you are working, you may be afraid of one shadow or the other, so putting his brother there after him is something that is natural; anybody can do that. So Ibori was instrumental in pivoting him up politically.
When he was growing up, did you find any trait of leadership in him?
Oh yes, even in the primary school, he was organizing his juniors, he would bring them together and begin to do one thing or the other. In the secondary school, he would come back home and organize lectures for all the secondary school students in the lower classes.
By the time he went to the university, he had organized lectures for all classes of secondary school students. He was fond of organizing. I know that people follow him and once he starts, everybody will rush to him, so he had all the leadership traits from youth.
So, was he organizing the lectures for financial gains or for humanity?
No kobo was paid to him. He just wanted his people to come up academically.
What informed your decision to name him after you?
That is just funny. I decided to give him my name by calling him Junior, Arthur Junior. I was just interested in calling him Arthur Junior but throughout his young age Ifeanyi is all that we have ever called him because that is the name that he was given after eight days of his birth before his baptism. I was fond of him, I was always calling him the big boy because he was very outstanding academically and in his behaviour. So he started to being humble right from the beginning.
As a former educationalist what is your assessment of the country’s educational standard?
I have seen that education is falling and the standard is going down to the drain. I am not happy about it. The government may have good plans but in the implementation, they fail and that is because they are faster than even those who brought education to us.
If you go to Britain which brought education to us you still find that teacher education is in the forefront, but here they scrapped teacher education at grade two level and that is now affecting the standard of people in the NCE. Because a child comes straight from secondary school into NCE; he does not have any rudiment about the principles and practice of education.
He does not know anything about it and so, they are not even able to write reasonable lesson notes.
Secondly, HSC is still going on in Britain which brought education to us but here in Nigeria, we have cancelled it. So students are not able to broaden their knowledge because they don’t have reading culture. They just depend on the handouts. Even the teachers are not making things to work out well because they make them to depend on their handouts.
So, all the graduates turned out appear to be half baked which is making the standard to go low and I believe that the standard of education in a nation depends on the standard of the teachers and education is the only thing that makes a nation. If you go into the scheme of work given to the schools, they might appear to be very good but there is a problem in the implementation of those schemes of work. Are the teachers able to cope? Like I said earlier, government may be planning very well, but the implementation is very bad.
When they brought in the 6-3-3-4 system, it was good but the implementation failed. It was intended that after the first three years in secondary school, students should be classified according to their subject areas; some will go for commercial, some will go for technical. They just build secondary schools all along; no technical colleges where these children could branch out to.
Technical colleges are very few and they are not doing anything in that line. It appears, everybody, when you finish from JS3 you go straight to SSS and then you continue. But that was not the intention. The intention was that after JS3, you classify them, science students will go into science schools, arts will go into arts schools and those who are out for technical things will go to such schools where they will develop but these are not in place so government failed on that part.
What do you think is the solution to the fast dwindling standard of education in Nigeria?
Government should equip the schools with the necessary facilities; a child in the school should be able to sit comfortably and when they are teaching he will be able to listen. So we appeal to government to first equip the schools with desks and chairs; then they should review the scheme of work with a view to finding out the defects.
There should be standard books that should be recommended. The child coming into the class must have that as a reader; as a text book for mathematics; as a text book for any subject and then have a good library and government should stock the schools with textbooks which can be given to the students.
There should be training and retraining of teachers; a lot of the teachers who went through secondary schools and went to Colleges of Education are half baked.