By Emma Amaize
Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan until last Tuesday, Delta State governor would have heaved a sigh of relief, November 9, when he packed out of the Governor’s official residence in Asaba following the nullification of his election by the Court of Appeal, not necessarily because he was fatigued of the office, but he had been buffeted from all corners in the last three years, and he needed time off, which the 90-day period for a re-run poll has offered to settle, to re-strategise and settle scores once and for all.
What made his case disturbing was that the alleged offences for which his chief antagonist, the former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark wanted him out of the way at all cost, were not committed by him, but, by his political mentor and predecessor in office, Chief James Ibori.
His troubles started soon after he secured the gubernatorial ticket of his party, PDP, at the Ogwashi-Uku primaries in late 2006 ahead of the former Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, now a senatorial aspirant in Delta North; Chief Ovie Omo-Agege, a former PDP gubernatorial aspirant, now in the ACN, Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Chief Pius Ewherido, Chief Godwin Obielum and others.
Chief Clark was peeved that Chief Ibori purportedly used his authority as an incumbent governor then to “manipulate” the primaries for his cousin, Uduaghan. He was even more enraged that Ibori never bothered to consult political leaders of the state before he allegedly anointed Uduaghan as his successor.
He wondered whether Ibori had become the political leader of the state to pick a successor without the input of others. He felt slighted and vowed to teach Ibori a political lesson. Though, Clark had been a vociferous supporter of Ibori until that time, he concluded that Uduaghan would not be the governor of the state.
For those who thought it was merely a tiff over an Ijaw man not wanting an Itsekiri man to be the governor of the state so soon after the Ijaw/Itsekiri crisis, the struggle did not abate, as Clark gathered some notable leaders in the state to form the Delta Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders Forum, DELSF, to stop Uduaghan.
The group, which wrote the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies against Ibori claimed he chose his cousin as successor to cover his tracks.
If Uduaghan who sought Clark’s blessings during his campaign for governorship thought the elder statesman’s anger would simmer down because power had shifted from the Delta Central senatorial district to Delta South senatorial district, where he and the Ijaw leader hail from, he was grossly mistaken, as Clark did not let go.
Instead of supporting Uduaghan in the spirit of power shift in 2007, Clark pitched tent with Ogboru, who his group picked as a consensus candidate.
Probably because of Ibori’s connection with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the EFCC did not do much to rattle him after the petition was sent by the DELSF, but the forum mustered opposition against Uduaghan, making the group a platform for all the defeated governorship aspirants against Uduaghan.
The gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Chief Peter Okocha was encouraged to pursue his court case for wrongful exclusion from the now nullified 2007 Governorship election by INEC and Okocha caused some sensation and discomfort for Uduaghan until the court finally struck out his case.
Ogboru’s case suffered similar fate but he continued to fight.
He, however, relocated to Lagos to oversee his business after the election and did not regularly attend the meeting of the DELSF, a development that made some of the members to classify him as a run-away fighter.
Seeing the weight of some of his co-aspirants and party members against him, Uduaghan tried to woo some of them back to his fold. He opened up a communication channel with the former managing director of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Chief Emmanuel Aguariavwodo and Chief Ewherido, but, it does not seem that they accepted his overtures. Omo-Agege’s inflexible deportment towards him remains a mystery because even after he lost the governorship primaries, he worked in his area for Uduaghan’s victory in 2007.
Uduaghan was, however, able to reconcile with Chief Obielum who dumped the DELSF to throw his weight behind him.
Two other gubernatorial aspirants, Dr. Roland Eyime and Hon. Ejaife Odebala were appointed as Commissioners in his cabinet while the deputy leader of the DELSF, Senator Fred Brume parted ways with the group to support Uduaghan. A former commissioner under Ibori, Wing Commander P. Biakpra who is a strong member of the DELSF and renowned academic, Professor Benedict Ijomah also opted out of the forum because of its dogmatic posture towards Uduaghan.
Besides courting his fellow contestants and other political leaders, Uduaghan also did everything possible to tell Clark that he is a loyal son, including providing him a vehicle and donating money to his Foundation.
While Clark accepted the first car gift on the grounds that he was entitled to it as an elder statesman from the state, the second one almost turned sour, as he went public with the tale that it was an attempt to induce him.
The state government was later to explain that the money was donated to the Foundation following a request to that effect and that if the managers of the fund decided to use part of the funds to buy a car and present to Clark, it was not to its knowledge.
With Okocha’s case struck out and nobody sure of Ogboru’s case at a point, the group renewed its case against Ibori when President Goodluck Jonathan took over. It accused Ibori of working against the emergence of Jonathan as President. With the EFCC fully on its side; the group chased the Oghara chief out of the country some months ago.
They believed that Ibori’s presence in the state was a source of strength to Uduaghan and having run him out of town, the next line of attack to get rid of Uduaghan was put in place.
The group never relented on scathing advertorials in the newspapers against Uduaghan and at a time, it was a media war between both camps.
Since 2011 was fast approaching, it became apparent to the group, most of who are PDP members that if the executive of the party, led by Chief Peter Nwaoboshi was left intact, the governor would clinch the party’s ticket for a second time, using his authority and command of the structures on ground. The battle now shifted to how to remove the state leadership of the party on the grounds that no congress was held to elect them.
Former national chairman of the party, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor did not give the forum the needed attention on the matter and it took its fight to the INEC, which after considering its case, came with its position that the party’s congress in eight states, including Delta state were inconclusive.
It was under the tenure of the new national chairman of the party, Chief Okwesileze Nwodo that the verdict came from INEC and it took further pressures from Clark and his group for the party to agree that fresh congress should be held in the affected states.
But the decision appears to have abated even as Chief Nwaoboshi went to court to stop the party from dissolving his executive. The battle of attrition was so intense that even when those interested in running for public offices were asked to collect nomination forms, the Clark group, which is like a parallel PDP in the state with its own state chairman, directed its members not to collect forms from the Nwaoboshi-led executive.
All the governorship aspirants in Clark’s camp, including, John Kpokpogri, Saliba Mukoro, Braduce Angozi were said to have gone to Abuja to collect nomination forms.
With the forum happy that fresh congress would be held and it would use the influence of one of its leaders at the Presidency to install its candidate as the new chairman, the group was taken aback when Uduaghan was appointed as the Chairman of the Fund Raising Committee of the PDP for the 2011 election.
Its leaders were riled by the appointment and they spewed the yarn that Uduaghan was working for former President Ibrahim Babaginda and not President Goodluck Jonathan. No doubt, Uduaghan had an association with Babaginda just like other Delta politicians serving in the Jonathan government, but, on the issue of 2011 Presidency, he had made it clear that his support was for a South-South candidate.
The forum insisted he was telling a lie and asked President Jonathan not to believe him. They accused him of non-performance to further drum home the revulsion for him and all efforts were directed on how to stop him from getting a fresh mandate from the party for the 2011 election.
Both sides were planning and counter-planning against each other and then, out of the blues, the pending Ogboru appeal case, which had been forgotten by many came up. With the sheer audacity Ogboru’s cases were dismissed in the past, nobody gave the November 9 judgment of the Court of Appeal a very serious thought until the shocking verdict came.
A source said since Ogboru lost his matter against Uduaghan in the Appeal Court before, but once the new Appeal panel was satisfied that election did not hold in Abraka , Ogboru’s stronghold and other parts of the state, it held that it was enough grounds to nullify the election, and it so did.
For Uduaghan, who has been running from pillar to post since 2007 trying to mend fence with those who remained obstinate to his advances, the time of distraction from his official work is over. It is now the time to slug it out in the field once again to prove that his 2007 victory was not an accident.
His political mentor, Chief Ibori who is battling in Dubai prison to stave-off his extradition to United Kingdom to face a money laundering charges would be far away from the Delta during the re-run that has been ordered to hold within 90 days from November 9 when the verdict was given. And even if he is not extradited from Dubai, he has a lot of things to worry about than concern himself with who becomes the next governor.
For now, Uduaghan has said he was ready to carry his cross as Emmanuel Uduaghan and by God’s grace; he was going to bounce back as the governor of Delta State.
But Chief Ogboru said he should forget about it as he (Ogboru) is the next governor of the state.