By Michael Chiejine
The surprise emergence of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as the PDP flagbearer for the Delta state governorship election has continued to generate attention. Okowa, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, shocked political pundits when he beat 14 other contestants with 406 votes out of a total of 1,074 votes.
Regarded by many as an underdog in the race, not a few were caught napping by Okowa’s wide margin of victory given the odds against him, prompting all manner of theories and wild conjectures from political analysts, Facebook politicians and political theoreticians in the media. However, one question people have failed to ask is this: why did Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan suddenly switch support from Obuh to Edevbie less than 48 hours to the primary election? The answer to that question holds the key to understanding the drama that unfolded at the Delta PDP primary election.
It is not true as has been canvassed by some aggrieved supporters of Obuh that it was a move meant to spite Delta North and deny them a chance at the governorship. They have been saying that Obuh was just a smokescreen for the governor’s hidden agenda to give the governorship to the Urhobo. Those who believe the governor acted in bad faith point to the fact that he could have chosen any of the other Delta North aspirants if for any reason he thought the Obuh project was doomed.
Whilst Obuh’s supporters have every right to feel aggrieved, it is both unfair and unkind to insinuate that the governor was using him as a pawn. Nothing could be further from the truth. It goes without saying that Uduaghan was all for the governorship moving to Delta North in line with the party’s zoning principle. The governor courageously shrugged off pressure from the Joe Omene-led Urhobo Progressive Union, stuck to his guns, and did everything to rally support for Obuh. So why then did he opt for an Urhobo candidate after resisting the campaign of calumny mounted against him by the UPU?
Sources within the party hierarchy revealed that the pattern of results of the primary elections for the State house of Assembly and National Assembly forced the governor to come up with a new game plan. Most of Okowa’s allies reportedly clinched their tickets for the state and national assemblies, and usually with wide margins. In fact, Obuh’s candidate for the state legislature was defeated while some key candidates for the House of Representatives, who ostensibly enjoyed official backing, lost their bids. According to an official, the results also showed that none of the contestants from Delta North stood a chance of winning against Okowa.
“From the way things were going,” said a party official, “Okowa was very confident of a landslide victory against Obuh. Since the votes from Delta North were expected to be split among the various contestants from the zone, he was relying on massive support from Delta Central and South where he had a very strong support base to clinch victory.” .
Political analysts agree that the choice of Edevbie was a political master stroke to appeal to Urhobo sentiments and actualise the governor’s dream of determining his successor. A source with inside knowledge of the situation said the governor opted for Edevbie because he was “the least antagonistic of the Urhobo aspirants.” The official backing of Edevbie changed political calculations and heralded a flurry of activities and horse-trading. In the new arrangement, Delta North was to produce the deputy governor while the Speaker of the state House of Assembly was zoned to Delta South. The UPU quickly directed all delegates from Delta Central to vote for Edevbie and requested all aspirants from the zone to step down from the race. In addition, they mobilised the traditional rulers in the area to direct their delegates to heed this directive or face sanctions. .
Moreover, the dumping of Obuh by Uduaghan and the offer of the position of deputy governor to him angered his supporters in Delta North. Realising that the governorship was slipping away from their hands, many delegates from Anioma nation gave their votes to Okowa in protest.. Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, the PDP South South chairman, who hails from Ika South Local government as Obuh, collapsed his structure and asked the delegates to vote for Okowa. This has raised hope of a possible reconciliation between Ojougboh and Okowa who had been long-time political opponents.
The deciding factor in the election was Delta South comprising the Itsekiris, Ijaws and Isokos. Expecting that Delta North will rally behind Okowa, the UPU reached out to political leaders in the south, notably Senator James Manager, and asked for their support in exchange for the Urhobo to support President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw. However, they met stiff resistance in the zone as many of the delegates explained that they were committed to the party’s principle of zoning for the purposes of “equity, fairness, and justice.” Comrade Paul Bebenimibo, an Ijaw leader, explained that the Ijaw “worked for Okowa because we know he is the leader that Delta State needs now.”
Finally, Okowa’s triumph is a victory for a united Delta. Despite the fact that the governorship was in principle zoned to Delta North, Okowa never ran as an Anioma candidate. He consistently based his campaign on the argument that he was the best candidate to succeed Uduaghan. His pan-Delta disposition and approach, and the network of relationships he had built across the three senatorial zones over the years are things other politicians can learn from.