11 February 2019

Nigeria: Delta Presents Epic Battle Between Two Fierce Electoral Warlords

The Delta state governorship standard bearers of the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa and Chief Great Ogboru respectively, are set for an epic battle.

The recent launch of the Delta State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 2019 Campaign Council at the Unity Hall, Government House Asaba, left no one in doubt that the party is prepared for battle to maintain its stranglehold on power in the state, since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999. The unveiling of the key drivers of the campaign machinery showed clearly that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the PDP leadership in the state mean business and are determined to settle for nothing short of overwhelming victory.

Former Nigerian Information Minister, Prof. Samuel Oyovbaire, is the chairman of the PDP campaign council, former National Assembly member, Prince Ned Nwoko, is the Vice Chairman while a former leader in the Delta State House of Assembly, Chief Funkekeme Solomon, is the Director-General of the campaign. The council also has legislators led by the Speaker of the state house of assembly, Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr Festus Ovie Agas, the politically revered former governor, Chief James Ibori as well as past deputy governors, including Prof Amos Utuama and Chief Benjamin Elue and Sir Simeon Ebonka. Practically, all former and present political office holders from the local government to the national level have equally been assigned various roles in driving the process expected woo majority of voters across the state to choose Okowa and other PDP candidates.

Nonetheless, to drive home the point made by the state party chairman, Kingsley Esiso that the entire campaign would a door-to-door affair, Okowa stressed that there was no duty for anyone at the Government House Asaba, thereby ruling out the so-called 'eye-service' in favour of diligent result-oriented contribution by individuals. Specifically, the governor charged that all the political actors, "must go back and work earnestly in their respective units, wards and local government areas," with tested hands to coordinate the collective efforts at the senatorial and state levels.

Moreover, the governor emphasised that "our campaign should be issue-based," saying the confidence of every party man or woman should be boosted by his administration's record of visible achievements in all the vital sectors of the local economy since its inception on May 29, 2015. To Okowa, since his government's numerous infrastructural and other projects and programmes were equitably distributed and all-inclusive, the PDP members could step into every nook and cranny of the state to sell its candidates. He stressed that no effort should be spared in reaching out to every resident in Delta State, including PDP deserters and members of other political parties, he said.

It is noteworthy that Okowa and the state party leadership emphasised the need for a peaceful approach to prosecuting the campaign. Perhaps, Okowa's commitment to sustainable peace process is his most valuable selling-point in his re-elction campaign. He had demonstrated that disposition in the handling of pockets of communal disputes in parts of the state, including the Alaja versus Ogbe-Ijoh feud.

Closely related to that is the fact that Okowa has enjoyed a convivial relationship with the traditional institutions; such that over 60 royal fathers could come together and unanimously put a stamp of approval on his second term bid, under the auspices of the Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers. At different levels, royal fathers in Delta north, central and south senatorial districts have similarly endorsed Okowa; the latest being traditional rulers and president-generals of development associations of Isoko ethnic extraction. As a matter of fact, Okowa did not have them placing their royal swords on is shoulder in such harmonious fashion during the 2015 election.

None of the governor's predecessors, including Ibori and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, enjoyed this political luxury as they practically had running battles with the polarised traditional rulers.

Okowa did not enjoy the overwhelming support of traditional rulers in the state during the 2015 election.

Another major advantage for the governor, going into the election on March 2, is the unprecedented harmony within the state PDP. Whereas the loudest among the opposition parties is bogged down by factional crises, mumouring and litigation over alleged imposition of candidates, the PDP has Okowa as its undisputed governorship aspirant, the director-general, Funkekeme noted after the inauguration of the campaign council in Asaba. He asserted that the situation in other parties, particularly in the APC, was everything but united and peaceful.

The apparently most pervasive sentiment across the length and breadth of Delta State is the unwritten principle known in local parlance as "turn-by-turnism". It was introduced in 1999 by the political family within the PDP led by James Ibori. It simply states that a senatorial district may produce a governor for the constitutionally stipulated maximum two terms. Thus, Delta Central produced Governor Ibori (1999-2007); Delta South produced Governor Uduaghan (2007-2015).

Although, the rotational policy meant to promote equity was the brain-child of the state PDP, the entire political space in the state appears to be saturated with it, thus giving it a semblance of a widely accepted norm. Therefore, the PDP insists that equity requires that Okowa should complete the maximum two terms, which commenced in 2015, before somebody outside Anioma nationality (Delta North) could aspire for office of the state governor.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Delta State APC campaign council in Asaba, the APC presidential campaign spokesman for the state, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, hinted that convincing the people to abandon the rotational power structure has become an uphill task for the party. Specifically, the erstwhile deputy national chairman of the PDP remarked that all attempts by him to persuade the leaders, particularly traditional rulers in Delta North had met a brickwall as the leaders appeared fixated on the issue of turn-by-turn principle of the PDP, against the "no-zoning" stand of the APC.

Apart from star projects like the state job creation programme and refurbishment of Asaba International Airport, some jinx-breaking projects executed by the Okowa administration include the Old Benin-Lagos Road traversing Ika South and Ika North-East local government areas and the reconstructed Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba These have significantly raised Okowa's electoral rating. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who recently commissioned the Old Benin-Lagos Road, the Keshi Stadium and other road projects, could not hide his excitement. He openly campaigned for Okowa's reelection.

Yet, Okowa's real political ace or 'joker' is his unprecedented state-wide town hall meeting, which saw the governor undertaking a comprehensive tour of all the local governments to interact with the grassroots comprising all segments of the society, including students, youths, women, farmers, traders as well as religious and traditional leaders. The town hall meeting in each local government was preceded by a day of visit by Okowa to commission various projects executed by his administration and to inspect ongoing ones.

Of no less importance is the integrity boost the governor's remarkably successful handling of two important national assignments for his party has obviously added to Okowa's political clout. After successfully serving as chairman the PDP National Convention in Abuja, Okowa proceeded to again serve as Chairman of the party delegates conference in Port-Harcourt. Thus, he successfully midwifed the process culminating in the emergence of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakr as PDP presidential flagbearer.

Moreover, not only does the PDP in the state appear to possess the war chest to prosecute the 2019 electoral battle, its nearly 20 years as the dominant political party makes it undeniably entrenched with present and past political office holders on ground to complement the efforts of its primary party leaders across the state in an aggressive grassroots campaign.

However, one of the greatest challenges staring Okowa in the face arose from the decision of former Governor Uduaghan to defect to the APC when his hopes of emerging the PDP senatorial candidate for Delta South were dashed with the unwillingness of the incumbent, Senator James Manager of Ijaw ethnic extraction to quit. Granted that a handful of other APC chieftains like Ojougboh and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege also defected from the PDP, or that the josttle for the South senatorial seat might be considered a straight clash between the Itsekiri and the Ijaw politicians (with the Isoko playing a somewhat balancing role), the point to consider is the fact that Uduaghan has since emerged as the chairman of the state APC 2019 campaign council. Needless to say, he has vowed to bring his election swinging experience to bear on the assignment.

Despite the fact that Okowa's most visible opponent in the 2019 gubernatorial race, Ogboru, would pass for a sectional chauvinist, there seems to be a niggling doubt that his Orkar-coup-popularity has faded. Ogboru, as evident in his four previous attempts, arguably leans heavily on calculations that the Urhobo Nation, which has the highest population in the state, would vote for him massively as to swing the gubernatorial election in his favour. It is obvious from the posturing of his faction of the APC that Ogboru's confidence has been doubled by both moral and financial support from the country's government at the centre.

Since 2003, he has featured in every governorship elections in Delta State but these efforts have been futile. However, Chief Great Ogboru has once more thrown his hat into the ring on the platform of the APC in an unrelenting effort to become the governor of Delta State.

He has been relentless in his push for the gubernatorial diadem of Delta State ever since he first attempted to wrest the governorship position from his kinsman and friend, Chief James Ibori, in 2003. That maiden bid was on the platform of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD). Apparently dissatisfied with the result of that effort, Ogboru again stepped into the arena in 2007, however, to his chagrin it would not be him but Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of the PDP who eventually succeeded Ibori as governor.

Ogboru's shots at the governorship in 2011 on the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and in 2015 on the platform of the Labour Party (LP) both ended in disappointing losses to Uduaghan and Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa of the PDP, respectively.

Ogboru has been a household name in Nigeria, and Delta State in particular, since his alleged controversial involvement in the botched attempt to topple the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida in 1990. Despite his serial failure to realise his ambition, Ogboru has remained popular, and this certainly is one of his greatest strengths, going into next month's election.

Ogboru and the APC are banking heavily on the so-called federal might to win the coming governorship election in the state. All the state party leaders, including Senator Omo-Agege, Dr Ojougboh and the campaign chairman, Uduaghan, admitted at the inauguration of the party's campaign council in Asaba that what the APC in Delta State was certain about was the assurance that President Buhari would be re-elected. This school of thought posits that if Buhari wins at the presidential election, what might follow would be voter apathy or mass defection to the APC before the governorship and state house of assembly elections.

Moreover, the federal government and the APC are expected to 'pump money' into certain states like Delta and Akwa Ibom that it is desperate to 'capture', in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. A large war chest is expected to be available to Ogboru for the election.

Ogboru is expected to gain some advantage from being an Urhobo, the largest ethnic group in the state with the largest voting population. He is expected to work with the senator representing Delta Central, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, to secure this advantage.

However it is considered, the defection to the APC of former Governor Uduagan is widely believed to be of significant advantage to the Ogboru governorship ambition. As his party's Delta South senatorial candidate and state campaign council chairman, Uduaghan has repeatedly vowed to outdo or undo the PDP in the coming general election, using his influence and financial resources.

The tag of "People's General" often paints Chief Ogboru in both positive and negative light. While many seem to believe that the man would be able to tackle the problem of governance if he could boldly challenge a deadly military junta by allegedly sponsoring a coup d'etat against it, others believe that Ogboru has not imbibed the democratic culture as he has moved from party-to-party simply to ensure he is the party's flag bearer every time. Indeed, the lingering crisis in the Delta State chapter of the APC has been generally blamed on what the mainstream faction of the APC described as the unholy alliance between Ogboru/Omo-Agege and APC Chairman, Oshiomhole, which allegedly led to the door being shut against a founding leader of the party like Olorogun O'tega Emerhor and at least three other governorship aspirants during the election for a governorship standard bearer.

Moreover, the APC candidate was alleged to have handpicked his running mate, Mr. Ossai Abeh, from his maternal home in Ukwani (a neighboring local government area to Ogboru's Ethiope) without recourse to the state party leadership.

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