Tribute to Mrs Omawumi Beatrice Udoh (1960 – 2016)
“Bros! The bill has just been passed”. With those immortal words, Omawumi had informed me that the Delta State House of Assembly had passed the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) Bill into law. I think it was on August 1, 2006 and she had telephoned from the House.
Upon my assumption of office in February 2006 as Commissioner, I resolved that an agency must be created in order to accelerate the development of the Oil Producing Communities and bring to an end the situation at the time, whereby 13% oil derivation income from the Federation Account was domiciled in the Consolidated Revenue of the State Government. In my view, there was no equity in that. I was aware that Misan R. Ukubeyinje–the member representing Warri North Constituency in the House of Assembly had on October 24, 2004 presented a bill for the establishment of the Commission. However, the bill wasn’t passed.
So, I liaised with Omawumi who was in her first term as member representing Warri South Constituency 1 in the House of Assembly. I solicited her support for my plan to get the House to revisit the issue of the abandoned bill and ensure its quick passage. To my amazement, she bought the idea without hesitation, despite the trepidations that appeared to be in the air concerning the matter.
To say that she was of great assistance in the events that followed until the bill was passed on August 1, 2006, is to state it very mildly. Getting the bill passed into law wasn’t a piece of cake especially, given that amongst other alterations, the headquarters of the proposed Commission had been changed to Warri from the state capital, Asaba.
Omawumi served her constituency in the House of Assembly from 2003 until her death in 2006. She loved her job and strove with an uncommon tenacity to ensure that benefits due to the people she represented get to them. In our ideas and values deficient politics of the Third Republic, she stood out as a very diligent lawmaker, thereby furthering the entrenchment of the practice of democracy in Delta State and in Nigeria.
She was very polite and urbane. I kept wondering why she was so different. However, that puzzle was solved when, a few days ago, I saw her biography. Her rich pedigree aside, she too, had, in a manner of speaking, been around other parts of Nigeria in her youth on account of the exigencies of her civil servant father’s employment.
In my opinion, nothing in the world can match the advantages that exposure to different peoples and their cultures can confer on one, especially when it occurs in the formative years. Those who spend most of or their entire youthful years in and around one village, town or city ultimately become victims of the limited exposure that their background affords them.
In the telephone call aforementioned, Omawumi also informed me that the House in Plenary had raised the statutory allocation to the proposed Commission to 50% from 40% as was contained in the bill. My instant response was a loud “EBOBO!!!” (an Itsekiri word for “wonderful” or “incredible”). My joy knew no bounds.
I recollect that at the funeral of the legendary boxer, Muhammed Ali on June 10, 2016 his widow, Lonie in a highly emotional and fitting tribute said, inter alia, that “America must never forget that when a cop and an inner city kid talk to each other, miracles could happen”. Lonie Ali was alluding to the racism and segregation laden era in America, in which her husband grew up. The cop was white. Cassius Clay (who later assumed the name Muhammed Ali) was black. The young Cassius had pleaded with the cop to help him find his stolen bicycle. It turned out that the same cop later on took Cassius Clay under his wings and taught him how to box. That singular act put Ali on the road to stardom.
The moral of this Lonie Ali quote as it relates to the Nigerian society today is pretty clear: Our democracy, no matter how wobbly, is on course and has come to stay. My experience with Omawumi and with various Senators, particularly, the Committee on Oil (Upstream) in the Sixth Senate led by distinguished Senator Lee L. Maeba in the matter of the events leading to the passage into law of the Nigerian Oil & Gas Industry Content Development Bill, 2006, teaches me that our lives could be a lot better and “MIRACLES COULD HAPPEN” if we talk to our legislators as I did to Omawumi.
The death of Hon. (Mrs.) Omawumi Beatrice Udoh removes one of the greatest personalities in Delta State. As her remains is interred on Friday the March 24, 2017, I pray fervently that God should grant her gentle soul eternal rest and console her family and loved ones.