BY GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR
ON a stormy afternoon, fat drops of rain smear the ground. Occasionally, flashes light the sky. Not too long after, the atmosphere is calm. Mrs. Orezi Edna Jane Esievo walks into her office, beaming with smiles.
A two-time commissioner in Delta State, Orezi appears simple like a teenager. If you didn’t look closely, you would hardly believe her age.
But sure, she is not a teenager. She has three kids and she whispers, “I’m an Isoko girl from Delta State.”
“Girl?” You ask.
“No…No… I’m a woman,” she whoops in a girlie relief. “I’m married with three children.”
With a cackle that seems to lift out of the pages showing the dimple on her face, Orezi says, “I speak my language very well.”
Esievo, Commissioner for Special Duties in charge of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Commission (DESOPADEC), says, “growing up was fun. “I was born in Warri and I had my primary education at Ojojo Primary School.”
For her secondary education, she was at Anglican Girl’s Grammar School (AGGS), Ozoro.
Was she into sports in school?
“Yes,” she laughs. “ I was into athletics in my secondary school — track and field. I was also involved in a lot of activities: Debating Society, the chorale group and what have you? I did everything in school.”
From AGGS, Ozoro, Orezi went to Federal Government College, Warri, for Higher School Certificate (HSC) in 1984, and thereafter, was at the University of Benin, where she read Law.
After law school, Orezi moved to Commercial and General Chambers on Strachan Street in Lagos. A firm managed by Chuma Nwokolo.
With a bias for litigation, she was at the firm until she established her chambers, and remained on her own for another six years before joining Shell Petroleum as the media relations’ supervisor.
She sings in an upbeat demeanour: “Then, I was moved to the Public Relations Department before I was appointed commissioner and had to resign my appointment with the company.”
After a moment, she muses, “somehow, I found myself back in Warri after 10 years in Lagos.”
She giggles, “in our days, we were not really thinking of Shell. You don’t want to leave Lagos. Even when you are forced, you have this belief that you’ll make it here, so, why leave?”
Fate clearly has a sense of humour. And for the daughter of Mr. Sunday Shedrack and Florence Amangada, the job at Shell led her to the future.
First? She draws a grim face and heaves, “God… a lot.” She had an engaging experience with the locals. Orezi adds briskly, “I love working with community people because you see them all the time, you relate with them at the grassroots level and nothing could be more exciting and humbling.”
Orezi’s Shell background prepared her for the greater assignment ahead. “I love every bit of what I’m doing,” she says.
“You work with everybody… you get to know the people better. They want development, life to be better; they want basic amenities of life. They are happy the way they are…” she let’s the sentence hang and looks out of the window. “It is a participatory thing — a people oriented approach to governance.”
Dressed in a white shirt and trouser, a colour that lends gravitas to the chiselled palette of the discussion, Orezi says, “in Shell, we tried to give to them what they itemised as their needs, not what we thought they should have. So, we drew up a community plan for them, we sat together with them, in participatory dialogue, a people oriented approach and strategy designed to produce the best results and this is exactly what we are doing in DESOPADEC today.”
Speaking with much passion, Orezi, popularly called Madam DESOPADEC, says, “I love what I’m doing, it’s almost the same thing, I’m still working with the community people.”
As Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, she was instrumental to the re-opening of the Nana Living History Museum at Koko. “That is the only National Museum we have in Delta State. We brought the artifacts back home to Delta State and we held a big festival because that same year, we also got the right to host the World Tourism Day in Delta State and everybody came from all over the world for the event.”
Voicing her strong conviction on the programme, she reflects to find out their needs, ranging from roads to schools, pipe borne water, hospitals, cottage industries, and all that makes life bearable by way of basic infrastructure provision. “It’s still the same orientation and with 264 projects executed to date, and the accompanying empowerment, one has every cause to feel emotionally satisfied and fulfilling serving the people and the governor.”
She tells you these people need minimum prompting through these facilities to live their lives to the full because nature has already blessed them with the basic elements that create inner satisfaction.
ANOTHER encounter was when she met her husband. Both had met at a traditional wedding in Warri in 2002, but got married in 2003. She says, smiling broadly, “my husband Emmanuel Esievo and I met at a traditional wedding of somebody, I didn’t see him but he saw me. Then he asked somebody who I was and the person said that’s my boss in the office. I think the person gave him the address of my office and he came around to chat me up and gradually as he sustained the interest, we became friends.”
Orezi adds: “He just introduced himself; I thought he was a contractor with Shell who wanted something, so I was like ‘what can I do for you?’ He said he didn’t need anything, but came to see me; and he sat down.
“Thereafter he started bothering me with phone calls. I found him to be a very caring, hard working man. Realising I was just ripe for marriage, I knew I had found the right person.”
Orezi pauses, then adds what seems a full stop, “let’s talk DESOPADEC, not me.” She shakes her head, her face softening. A strand of sweat slide down her face and she says, “There cannot be any meaningful human development without peace. A peace agenda that includes education, justice and equitable distribution of resources.”
She says wistfully, “analysis of poverty and human development in the Niger Delta paint a dismal picture, particularly when the Delta is compared with other oil producing regions in the world. Competition for economic resources and environmental degradation has taken its toll on the area. Local people often cannot benefit directly from oil industry activities, including employment either because they lack the skills or capital resources.”
According to the commissioner, The Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development commission (DESOPADEC) was established in 2006 by an enacted bill of the Delta State House of Assembly, for 50 per cent of the 13 per cent of the state derivation funds to be set aside for the rehabilitation and development of the oil producing communities.
Orezi adds that through this state initiative, change and hope came to the people of the oil producing communities in Delta State.
“DESOPADEC, in two years, has improved inter-ethnic harmony and unity, improved the infrastructure, social and economic well being of the oil producing communities and enhanced peace and security in Delta State. The commission has awarded about 1,198 contracts till date; 447 completed and 751 at different stages of completion. Today we commission 266 projects across Itsekiri, Ijaw, Urhobo, Isoko and Ndokwa ethnic nationalities,” she remarks.