The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was in Asaba last week. He was guest of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. The VP, a liberal democrat by his utterances and public persuasion with a strong blend of intellectualism, has a swag of sagacity and fecundity. He was in Asaba to commission a historical masterpiece of architectural magnificence. The new Delta State secretariat.
Created in August 1991, 30 years ago, Delta never had a secretariat. Its ministries and departments are scattered mostly in rented apartments. From 1991, the state famed for its vast oil fields, brilliant men and women, beautiful landscapes, an assortment of strong traditional institutions and mores, the best palm wine and rich repository of bush meat, the nursery of the nation’s sportsmen and women; has passed through nine leaders – military administrators and governors – Okowa being the 10th, but it never had a functional constellation of offices worthy to be called a secretariat. Coming to commission one in Asaba on November 29 made Osinbajo a witness to history.
But before the event of the day, Osinbajo was at the palace of the Asagba of Asaba, Obi Professor Chike Edozien. The Asagba, a multiple academic awards winner in medicine, has had his fair share of grace. His academic and professional exertions have taken him round the world lending him with copious experience in chemical pathology, clinical biochemistry and nutrition.
Professor Edozien, the 13th Asagba (traditional ruler/head) of Asaba is a man of uncommon intelligence and accomplishments in medical sciences. He has had successful stints at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London; a professor of nutrition at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; Professor and Head of Department of nutrition of the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina. His exceptional research in nutrition at the University of Ibadan, not only stood him out as an exemplar of medical excellence but also earned the university global acclaim as a centre of ripping academic quality.
But in spite of these sterling works of global laudation, nothing sticks to his name to immortalize the man in his state. Aside being conferred the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, there is no enduring emblem to memorialize the man who retired as a Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina.
So, it was no surprise that while at the palace, Osinbajo especially commended the naming of the new secretariat after the Asagba. The VP said that the traditional ruler was deserving of the honour, both as a medical practitioner and traditional ruler.
The Asagba himself expressed appreciation to the state government for honouring him by naming the secretariat after him. Osinbajo described the secretariat as one of the best in the country. Structurally, the secretariat is an edificial masterpiece which graces the Asaba skyline in edifying splendour. It is a legacy whose essence and import extend into the deepest crevices of the 30-year history of a state that has given Nigeria so much but got so little. Delta is one of the top three producers of crude oil in Nigeria. It has the largest gas reserve. For all the nation’s attainments in academics and sports both locally and globally, Delta contributes a high quota. But it gets so little from the Nigerian government. Federal structures and institutions in the state are few and far between.
In the course of the 30-month civil war, Delta was the epicentre of hostilities. Asaba, especially, became the killing field and experimental base to test all weapons, from the locally constructed to the exotic contraptions of mass destruction. Then, there was the blood-chilling Asaba Massacre of October 1967. For days, blood flowed on the banks of the River Niger. Delta men and women, children and the faint were gunned down in one of the goriest blitzkriegs in human history. This writer lost an uncle in that moment of sanguinary butchery. The hole still gapes in our hearts. But we move, in the Nigerian spirit, to redeem our tomorrow.
The Asagba grabbed the liberty of Osinbajo’s visit to seek a redress and a redemption on the Asaba Massacre. He has asked for a dialogue between the people of Asaba and the Federal Government. The wound still hurts. And we cannot wish it away by refusing to discuss it. Silence, especially one encased in mischief, does not heal a sore. Action does. The right medication must be applied by the right personnel. The Asagba has asked for dialogue as part of the healing process. It’s the heart’s cry of a nonagenarian; a 96-year-old statesman and custodian of one of Nigeria’s most powerful and nobliest traditional institutions. The Federal government should initiate a dialogue to put a closure to the mindless pogrom on the Niger.
But the Asaba massacre with all its nerve-racking butchery should not take the shine off the historical essence and administrative relevance of the imposing piece of legacy called the Prof. Chike Edozien Secretariat; the only monument that bears the name of a monumental man of scholarship, a living legend whose imprimatur in medicine is as bold as his imprint in custodial leadership of his people. For this, Okowa deserves another epaulet to his highly decorated shoulder.
The Governor gives deeper insight into the building and its pertinency. He said that with the completion of the complex, the state would save hundreds of millions of naira spent annually to rent offices while the coordination and synergy among MDAs would be enhanced, leading to higher morale, better time management, efficiency and greater productivity.
His words: “This sprawling office complex occupies a total floor space of 45, 000 square metres and designed around five clusters with multiple floors, each cluster around a courtyard.
“This concept allows plenty of natural light and ventilation into the offices. All the 27 ministries and their commissioners and permanent secretaries will be housed here, with the entire secretariat interconnected through a system of voice and data networks.
“There are nine seminar/conference rooms, a training room, clinic, creche, banking hall and three restaurants in the building, while the car park has the capacity to accommodate up to 1,000 cars. Electricity supply to the secretariat as with other government buildings is powered by the 8.5 Megawatts Asaba Independent Power Plant.”
Simply put, here comes the smartest office in a SMART Delta. A fitting edifice named after the man the cap fits. In Yoruba land, Governor Okowa is the quintessential Omoluabi (a properly brought up child of good behaviour). He has during his tenure honoured notable Deltans. During the 30th anniversary of the state in August, this year, he rolled out the red carpet to garland Deltans from every part of the state, living and dead, whose life was, and still is, a banner of distinction. He, alone, ensured that the soul of Africa’s soccer legend, Stephen Keshi, truly rests in peace when he named the Asaba stadium after him.
At 96, Asagba has seen honour. He’s been robed in grandeur. He has left for humanity legacies that would outlive him. But this secretariat is a reward from humanity to a humanist, which is what he exemplifies.