Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
Odidigborigbo political empire MISTAKEN at the time as a political underdog, Chief James Onanefe Ibori emerged from nowhere in the run-up to the 1999 governorship election in Delta State to grab the gubernatorial ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and unpredictably went ahead to win the year’s election as the second civilian governor of the state, the first being the late Senator Felix Ibru.
The man popularly called Odidigborigbo of Africa from Oghara, Ethiope-West local government area, Delta Central senatorial district of the state (Urhobo) not only presided over the affairs of the state for eight years ( 1999-2007), he established a political dynasty- the Ibori political family, which is currently running the affairs of the state.
Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri from Abigborodo, Warri North local government area, Delta South senatorial district, a member of the Ibori political family took over from him as governor. He ruled for eight years, 2007 to 2015 and another member of the Ibori political family, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, is in the saddle, about finishing his first tenure in 2019.
Mesmerizing political opponents
Till date, older politicians and elder statesmen in the state are aghast as to how 58-year-old Ibori managed to put in place such a political empire, which boasts, in its ranks, sagacious politicians like Senator Peter Nwaboshi, Chief Ighoyota Amori, Chief Paulinus Akpeki and a host of other apostles.
Even in incarceration outside the country, Ibori held sway over the politics of the state to the chagrin of those who thought little of his political prowess.
Love or hate Ibori, one legacy that could implant him as the unquestionable godfather of Delta politics if it goes full circle in 2019 is the power rotation formula among the three senatorial districts that he enshrined against the wishes of some of his Urhobo kinsmen, who wanted power to everlastingly remain in Delta senatorial district because of how Asaba emerged as capital of the state. With Delta Central’s eight years already taken by him, Delta South’s eight years served by Uduaghan, the new power rotation formula in the state will go full circle if Okowa wins a second tenure to last till 2023 in 2019. What this means is that after Okowa’s eight-year tenure, power will automatically rotate back again to Delta Central and continues likewise, making Ibori a political juggernaut.
Strong politicians in Delta Central, Ibori’s senatorial district, especially those in the opposition parties, who derided Ibori for the rotational arrangement, are beginning to see wisdom in his political option.
APC’s apparent U-turn
Curiously too, the main opposition party in the state, All Progressives Congress, APC, which saw nothing good in Delta North taking over power in the state after Dr. Uduaghan’s (Delta South) turn ended in 2015, is gravitating towards a Delta North ticket in 2019.
When sequential governorship candidate, Chief Great Ogboru, a notable Urhobo politician ran against Ibori in his time, it was seen as an Urhobo affair, but against Uduaghan, it was obvious that many Delta Central stakeholders did not want power shift in the state.
Olorogun O’tega Emerhor led the Urhobo front against the incumbent Governor Okowa from Delta North in 2015, but ahead the 2019 election, the opposition led by Emerhor, who is the leader of APC in the state appeared to have had a rethink. Clearly, Emerhor had ruled himself out of the 2019 contest, a stance that has endeared him to party faithful as undisputable leader.
Feelers in the state indicate that APC might field a strong Delta North governorship standard-bearer to battle Okowa, who it avowed, has not performed to complete the district’s remaining four-year tenure (2019-2-2023), after which power will come back to Delta Central.
Already, APC leaders in Delta South have resolved that Delta North should produce the party’s gubernatorial standard-bearer in 2019. Some APC leaders in Delta South have also agreed in principle, but Chief Ogboru has not told anybody that he was not going to contest again.
Ojougboh, Ochei, Utomi, others line up for Delta North
With the apparent nod from the other two senatorial districts, leading lights of APC from Delta North, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh, former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Victor Ochei, Professor Patrick Utomi and others are ready to fight for the party’s ticket.
Kokori’s take on Ojougboh
Veteran Labour and NADECO leader, Chief Frank Kokori, who is a chieftain of APC in the state and a close ally of Chief Ogboru, stated during a recent consultation visit of Ojuogboh, a former deputy national chairman of PDP, South-South until 2017 when he decamped to APC, that the aspirant had the capacity to turn around the fortunes of the state.
“I have known Dr. Cairo Ojougboh for a long time and I have witnessed all his political battles and efforts. I will support any person from Delta state, who wins in a free and fair congress for the 2019 general election,” he asserted.
Dr. Ojougboh hails from the same Ika ethnic nationality in the state with Governor Okowa and sees himself as a dogged politician and better match than any other person against the latter. While he is from Ika South, Okowa is from Ika North East and both have fought several political battles from the time of Ibori.
Ojougboh, who understands the political dynamics at play, declared to APC faithful at Uvwie local government area during his consultative visit that he would serve only one term if elected governor in 2019. This is still in keeping with the Ibori rotation of power in Delta.
Uduaghan, Utomi row
Prof Utomi, however, thinks he is the answer to the political problem facing the state, but in his controversies with the former governor of the state, Dr. Uduaghan, who he denigrated for alleged bad leadership, last year, the ex-governor said the aspirant had no grassroots base and advised him to gun for councilor instead of governor.
Dr. Utomi, in response to Dr. Uduaghan’s charge on him (Utomi) to start his aspiration from the councillorship level, urged the former governor to give account of the N20 billion expended on the Independent Power Project, IPP.
Uduaghan, immediately responded by affirming that Utomi does not have what it takes to be governor of Delta State given what he claimed were Utomi’s legacies at Volkswagen Nigeria and as coordinator of the South-South Summit held in Asaba, Delta State.
Utomi , who maintained his position fired back that “Such waste is still being experienced today in the state under the current administration,” adding: “Governor Okowa was right to raise an alarm about the over N600 billion debt that he claimed to have inherited. He has however, proceeded to increase this debt burden by over N60b of his own. This is only further mortgaging Delta state and the future of our children.
His words: “I am pleased to hear the former Delta State Governor, Uduaghan respond to my comments on the poor state of finances in Delta State. To my mind, it is the direction of engagement that I hope will raise the quality of public discussions and move our democracy towards better serving the people. I therefore, feel obligated to respond to the issues raised and to set the records straight for the benefit of the general public.”
But in his reaction, Uduaghan said: “It is very interesting that Prof Utomi quickly rushed to respond to me, again with tales that were full of falsehood. I will surely respond with further details and more information on Prof Pat Utomi, who was the last Managing Director of the once vibrant Volkswagen Company of Nigeria and Chairman of the South-South summit held in Asaba to let our people know that Prof Utomi does not have what it takes to govern Delta.”
Akpeki weighs in
Also speaking on the matter, Chief Akpeki, a former commissioner in the state who also served as chief of staff to Governor Uduaghan said, “To the best of my knowledge, he (Utomi) was a honourary adviser to Uduaghan during his time. Ask him the project he said that they should do in his village, what happened to it? What role did he play on that project? It is very sad that people who have skeletons in their cupboards should begin to make noise. In terms of performance, he shouldn’t be the one talking.”
“You would remember that at a very young age, he was the M.D. of Volkswagen of Nigeria. In whose hands did Volkswagen collapse? If someone was a good manager, a Federal Government company collapsed in your hands, are you still a good manager? As far as I know, the three governors we have had in Delta State, James Ibori, Uduaghan and Okowa have performed exceedingly well within the available resources at their disposal,” he asserted.
Ochei thinks he is best for APC
Like Ojougboh, Ochei also decamped from PDP to APC and believes too that he should be nominated as the party’s gubernatorial standard-bearer to give Delta North a better representation. Ochei, nevertheless, has elder statesman and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, who had vowed to stop his ambition on account of an unfinished power project by a company he divested interest in before his Speakership to contend with.
Ibori on target but…
Ibori is on target either way if Okowa wins a second term on PDP platform and even if a Delta North politician in APC stable upturns the applecart. The decisive factor is that Delta North would do two terms of eight years irrespective of party affiliation.
However, reverse will be the case if Ogboru emerges from political oblivion to displace the Delta North contenders on APC platform and goes ahead to spring a shocker on Okowa in the battle field and if a victorious APC Delta North governorship candidate decides against the run of play to hold on to power after 2023.
This is the scenario sources close to Ojougboh said their principal had sworn to prevent and are hopeful that he would emerge triumphant.