Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South- South
P EOPLE’S Democratic Party, PDP, chieftain in Delta State and member, Ogidigben Export Processing Zone, EPZ, Interface Committee, Warri South-West Local Government Area, Chief Thomas Ereyitomi, spoke to Saturday Vanguard in Warri on the lingering controversy between the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups on the EPZ project, emergence of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as the party’s gubernatorial candidate and Barrister Kingsley Otuaro as his running mate, as well as the unclear circumstances in which Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan sacrificed his senatorial bid. Excerpt.
Looking at what played out in the People’s Democratic Party, Delta State with Senator Ifeanyi Okowa from Delta North emerging as the gubernatorial standard bearer, where do you place the Itsekiri people?
First and foremost, I am a PDP member and majority of Itsekiri politicians are in PDP, so Itsekiris support Okowa. They will vote en-mass for Okowa. As to the stake of Itsekiri people presently in PDP, we have a stake even though if you look at the whole arrangement, starting from the governorship flag bearer and his running mate, we are not there. This is just the gubernatorial candidate and running mate we have for now. Don’t forget that the incumbent is an Itsekiri, in terms of political appointments, am sure that Itsekiris would not be left out giving our voting strength, we will be compensated, I know that Okowa knows what to do and Itsekiris are in the right place as far as I am concerned.
In what was clearly a curious case that the governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who is an Itsekiri sacrificed his senatorial bid for the incumbent Senator James Manager, an Ijaw, while the Itsekiri also lost the chairmanship of Warri South-West, which one of its sons had already won the primary, what is amidst?
On the chairmanship matter, the circumstances at which Hon Bobby Omadeli, I cannot use the word lost out because he won the primary…the incident that happened two days before the election, it was very unfortunate. In any case, we have a rotational arrangement in Warri South-West, which automatically gives the Itsekiri people the right to produce the chairman, but I think the governor wanted an improvement on the rotational arrangement, which is for a particular ethnic group to run two tenures, instead of one. The principle behind the rotational concept is that no one ethnic nationality should perpetually occupy that seat. Even though our Ijaw brothers are now occupying the position for two tenures now, it means that when it comes to the turn of Itsekiri people, we will also do two terms. I see it as an improvement on the whole thing, but that should have been an arrangement between the two ethnic groups and the governor and in doing that too, Omadeli should not have been subjected to that rigorous process he went through.
On the senatorial primary, you remember that Senator Manager and Governor Uduaghan are friends, they are brothers. The circumstances at which the governor relinquished his bid for Manager are still a mystery to some of us because we do not know the rationale behind it, bearing in mind that Senator Manager has done three tenures, this is the fourth time he is going for it and it is not supposed to be so. Because this is a seat that is rotational among the Itsekiri, Ijaw and Isoko, so the circumstances at which the governor came out and voluntarily declined to contest the position are still a mystery to some of us. As friends, maybe there is something that happened that they (he and Manager) have not been able to disclose to their followers.
What is your take of an average Itsekiri man on Otuaro, an Ijaw as Okowa’s running mate?
Barrister Kingsley Otuaro is a friend and I am sure that virtually all the Itsekiri leaders know him. As to an Ijaw man emerging as the deputy governor, I am not sure that is the issue now, the issue is that we have gotten a deputy governor from Warri South-West. Warri South-West broke out from the original Warri because Warri is now Warri South-West, Warri North and Warri South, which means that in the old Warri, this is the very first time we are having a deputy governor. How he emerged is not the issue, the onus is on us to rally round Okowa to ensure that the opportunity we have now does not elude us. We support Barrister Otuaro as deputy governor and we are going to work for him because it is an opportunity that we cannot allow to slip.
You are a member of the Ugborodo EPZ Interface Committee, what is the position of things between the two ethnic groups on the naming of the project site?
The position that I am aware of, though I did not attend the last meeting in Abuja, but the brief I have showed that NNPC tried to relocate outright the Deep Sea Port from Kpokpo end deep down into the Gbaramatu area and as such, they are pleading with the Itskeiri people to allow that be so that the Deep Sea Port will perhaps be named after Gbaramatu Kingdom and the Export Processing Zone, EPZ proper after Ugborodo. But from the brief I have, those who went to the meeting said yes, but they need also to see everything that they want to do. Do not forget that Itsekiri, as a nation, has taken a position on this matter. And the position of the Itsekiri is that if parts of our land will be ceded to Ijaw in the name of renaming the project, they prefer that the project be taken to another place. That meeting was held in the palace of the Olu of Warri and the Olu of Warri presided over the meeting and that is the highest authority in Itsekiri Kingdom. A position had been taken and so when this new idea was introduced, courtesy demands… that is the position of those who went to the meeting that they have to do consultation with the relevant stakeholders in respect of this and two, NNPC has to provide also the map where they intend to do the new relocation. Bearing in mind that the two projects are one, but they are dislocating it, the effects of the dislocation and other things. For now, consultation is still going on and NNPC has not called our people back, perhaps, everybody is still busy. So presently, no position has been taken in respect of that. Our position is that where the jetty (port) is now is part of Ugborodo land and we will not allow it to be entirely named after Gbaramatu.
Ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who is a top Ijaw leader form Gbaramatu Kingdom, has met with the Olu of Warri, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILT, in what many thought was a way of forging peace and understanding on this matter, to what extent has recent bridge-building efforts impacted on this process?
Yes, I was in the palace when Tompolo came, he tried to build confidence, to reassure the people that the Ijaw do not have any intention of fighting the Itsekiri. He also tried to say that the information people are peddling are not correct, that is what he did. I am sure that what he also discussed with the ILT, but as to the issues of the EPZ, those issues were not discussed. He booked for the meeting but he did not come out to say this is my position on the EPZ. So the issue of EPZ has not been discussed. I think what he is doing is on the right direction; let us see how the Ijaw and Itsekiri can live in peace. When the NNPC comes up with the map, we will sit down and see how amicably we can resolve the matter.
Finally, the Urhobo Progressives Union, UPU, which is the apex socio-cultural group of the Urhobo in the Delta Central Senatorial district, is still maintaining that Urhobo people will not vote for PDP because the party picked a Delta Northerner, Okowa as its governorship standard bearer. Will this not affect the chances of your party in next month’s poll?
Our brothers from the Central need to understand that politics is about collaboration. No one senatorial district can entirely win election without the collaboration of others and that a candidate has emerged from the North (Anioma), they are part of the state. Delta North supported former governor, Chief James Ibori, so we expect that they should also reciprocate. The position they took that if an Urhobo man is not the governorship candidate of PDP, they will not vote for the party is not correct because every part of the state is entitled to produce the governor. The incumbent governor is from Delta South, so we are moving to North, when it leaves the North, it comes to Central again and that gives a sense of belonging that we are all one. So, my appeal to our brothers from the Central is to ensure that we collaborate as a family to ensure that we deliver Okowa because it will be their turn tomorrow and they will need the assistance of the people of Delta North.