By Irikefe Umukoro
Since 1999, Delta State politics has been dominated by two men: a former governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, and the People’s General, Olorogun Great Ogboru. Ibori ruled Delta from 1999 to 2007, handing over to Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, who ruled for eight years and handed over to Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.
Conversely, Ogboru, the popular opposition politician in the state, contested and lost in five consecutive elections, but is still in search of an opportunity to govern Delta. He had lost to Ibori in 2003, thrice to Uduaghan in 2007, 2010, 2011 and to Okowa in 2015. It is, however, believed by his supporters that he lost all five contests to alleged PDP rigging machinery. While this could be acceptable, except perhaps in 2015, the facts and the realities on ground show a scoreline of 5-0 in favour of Ibori in the tie for the political control of Delta. The scoreline is bad, not only for Ogboru but also for the Delta opposition, which has failed to get its act together at every opportunity
Meanwhile, March 2, 2019 provides Ogboru another opportunity. It is viewed as an opportunity for him to shape a better future for the state, a chance to correct the mistakes of the past and end the losing streak against Ibori. Whether he is able to finally put to an end to the reign of Ibori’s political family and change the trajectory of the state politics will depend on what Ogboru decides to do in 2019.
Since returning home from London, Ibori has made it clear he wants to play active role in the politics of Delta and keep the state under his firm control. And buoyed by the rousing welcome he received across the state since his return, Ibori has thrown down the gauntlet to challenge anyone for a fight for the soul of the state in 2019.
With Ogboru in the APC, there is no better chance for him to secure his first electoral victory at the polls, but the path is strewn with crushing obstacles.
First, power rotation gives Okowa a huge electoral advantage against Ogboru, and Ibori would rely on this to take the incumbent governor to the finish line against an Ogboru candidacy.
By touting power rotation, Ibori is signaling that the next campaign will not be fought on Okowa’s record and policy issues but on the sentimental issue of identity politics and power rotation. Ibori may be right.
The Delta public overwhelmingly recognises the need for power rotation among the three senatorial districts to achieve stability of the polity. This sentiment which could also play out in the APC primary should be of deep concern to Ogboru and his allies. In the face of this clear evidence, it would be a costly mistake to ignore the clamour for Delta North to complete its two terms. APC would be doomed to failure in 2019 if it ignores the principle of zoning and power rotation as practised by PDP in the state. Under these circumstances, an Urhobo candidate won’t fly in 2019. Ibori knows this and he is banking on progressives to make the mistake of presenting a candidate that is not from Delta North.
Now, more than ever before, Deltans expect Ogboru to do all necessary to turn the page on the politics and policies of the Ibori political family. That is why Ogboru needs to do things differently and take steps to define a forward-looking plan to regain the political initiative and halt the political gravity that is now operational around him. As Ogboru ponders over what to do in 2019, he should keep in mind that he stands on the threshold of a significant moment – a must win moment for himself and all progressives in the state. There is no room for error. If progressives fail in 2019 because of his candidacy or the candidacy of anyone else from Urhobo, it’s hard to see how a progressive can win in 2023 when it will be the turn of Delta Central.
- Umukoro, a political analyst, is based in Ughelli, Delta State.