How they surfaced, their style and divergences
Fruitless attempts to cage the power brokers
By Emma Amaize,
Regional Editor, South-South
HOW they managed to pull the act is not the focus of this report. But the reality is that less than eight years after the creation of Delta State in 1991, they were able to tactically position themselves and have continued to call the shots in the state 19 years after they captured power.
Practically, virtually nothing happens in the state without their inputs and efforts, over the years. Ploys by other opinionated leaders to break their iron grip have proved abortive. They have so far produced three governors of the state in a row, numerous Senators, House of Representatives and state House of Assembly members, local government chairmen, councilors and lots more.
Depending on which side of the divide in the convoluted political game in the state, you can call them any name, but former governor of the state, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, another ex-governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, serving governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, Senator James Manager and Senator Peter Nwaoboshi are undeniably the power brokers of Delta politics. Ibori is from the Central senatorial district, Uduaghan and Manager are from the South senatorial district, while Governor Okowa and Nwaoboshi hail from the North senatorial district of the state.
As already recognized, Ibori is the leader of the Delta musketeers. Elder statesman and National Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Senator Edwin Clark, saw the plan when it was unfolding, especially when Uduaghan become known as Ibori’s favorite to succeed him, but his inflexible moves to abort the process were truncated. He later resolved with Uduaghan and today, Clark is at home with Governor Okowa.
What is not clear is whether he has forgiven Ibori. Also, consecutive governorship candidate, Chief Great Ogboru, a political force in his own right joined forces with other politicians to stop Ibori’s grip on power. Rather than shrink in strength, Ibori waxed stronger.
How the commandos emerged
The five musketeers are all members of the burgeoning grouping known as the Ibori political family with the Odidigborigbo as the commander-in-chief. Available facts indicate that prior to the 1999 election, which he won; Ibori had brought the defunct Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM, to the state through which he mobilized young breeds into politics.
Okowa at the time was the Delta North coordinator of GDM and Uduaghan, a founder and executive member of GDM. Senators Manager and Nwaoboshi were all leaders of the group. Governor Okowa confirmed to this reporter in an interview that it was in GDM that he met Ibori in 1996. (GDM was one of the five parties sanctioned by the late General Sani Abacha in his time, but when he wanted to transmute to civilian president before he gave up the ghost,his first choice was the United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP)
According to Okowa: “That was quite a long time. There was Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM, though a small party then during the Abacha time; then UNCP was where we had the moneybags and big politicians. But somehow, some of us, the younger ones felt that we needed to create a new politics. That was in 1996 and we found ourselves joining the Grassroots Democratic Movement. Why, because the national chair then was also very young, so he was able to recruit some of us, who were young into the place and nobody actually believed in us. Therefore, it was in the Grassroots Democratic Movement, what we called the GDM that I actually met Chief James Ibori in 1996.”
“We struggled hard, we were able to win five local governments out of the 25 in Delta state and people put us off, but we played good politics then even when we were quite young. I had been council chair before, so I understood what politics was. He (Ibori) also had made an attempt to run before, people like Senators James Manager, Ighoyota Amori; it was a young crop of persons; all of us below 40 then that actually populated the place.
“However, when the new political era was to start after the Abacha time, immediately we realized then that UNCP was going to be a major problem to us, we quickly teamed up with DPN, the Democratic Party of Nigeria and that gave us strength because they also had four local government areas and we had five, which made it nine. So we had improved on our strength, the combination actually gave us a very good strength, we formed what we called the Delta National Congress in Warri and that was the tool with which we went to link up with the G34 and then eventually joined the PDP. The rest is now history because we surprisingly took Delta state at that time,” he disclosed.
Evidently, from Okowa’s sequence of events, Ibori had a political formation on ground before the PDP was formed in 1999 and those who thought they were on the same traction with him as co-founders of PDP discovered when he smoothly picked the governorship ticket of the party at the primaries that he was far ahead of them.
What do they want?
Ibori, the leader of the group is not contemplating any political office at the moment. He seems satisfied with playing the role of political kingmaker in the state and those seeking political office come to him for endorsement. He is the rallying point of politicians in the state, both those in the ruling PDP and opposition parties. He was away when his daughter, Hon Erihitake Ibori, was conscripted and made a member of the state House of Assembly. One of the musketeers, Senator Nwaoboshi did not hide the fact that Ibori made him a Senator.
Uduaghan, who also served eight years as governor like Ibori wants to go to the Senate in 2019. He tried to move to the National Assembly straight from his governorship seat in 2015, but a combination of factors truncated his ambition, leaving the coast for the incumbent, Senator Manager.
Senator Okowa from the North district also intends to run for a second term after the expiration of his first stint, next year, and had received the guarantee of Ibori to the effect.
Senator Manager, who is from the same South senatorial district with Uduaghan has held the position for a record four terms, that is 16 years by next year and he still wants a fifth tenure. While Uduaghan is Itsekiri, Manager is Ijaw. Also, Senator Nwaoboshi, popularly known as Oracle and Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta, is eying a second term.
Clash of interests
The political gladiators have always handled their interests despite the differences as political animals. That is the reason Okowa still materialized as governor in 2015 despite the drawbacks.
Nevertheless the proposition by Senator Manager to hold on to his position after four terms is something Ibori has to dexterously deal with to save the musketeers from themselves. Uduaghan is strongly opposed to the idea. He explained in 2015 that he reneged on his ambition because he wanted peace to reign in the state, but it appears he is not prepared to stomach the humiliation he suffered back then this time around. There was also a cloaked attempt to use a member of the state House of Assembly, Hon Michael Diden, also an Itsekiri, to scuttle Uduaghan’s 2019 senatorial bid.
It is not known whether Senator Manager will buckle, but sources said he had asked to be compensated with another good political office if he is to back out. “He reportedly requested to be made Okowa’s running mate, but Governor Okowa had since announced that he was going to run with his deputy, Mr. Kingsley Otuaro and I do not think Ibori is going to stop him. So Senator Manager’s case is dicey,” an apostle of Ibori political dynasty confided in this reporter, during the week, in Asaba.
There are other disagreements among the Ibori disciples in the present political dispensation.
Ibori mends cracks
Indeed, if Ibori had not returned from London the time he did, last year, something scary would have happened to his political family, as the handwriting was on the wall. Conversely his return has also changed the political dynamics in the state. Expectedly, he had mended whatever perceived differences between Uduaghan and Okowa. Governor Okowa now refers to Uduaghan as his boss and Uduaghan is proclaiming Okowa for second term everywhere he goes.
One of the key apostles and strategists of the Ibori political dynasty, a former Commissioner and Chief of Staff in the Uduaghan government, Chief Paul Akpeki, left PDP and pitched tent with APC shortly after Okowa assumed power due to his dissatisfaction with developments. The opposition celebrated his exit while PDP rued. He vowed that Deltans would change Okowa in 2019.
But when Ibori returned, he reached out to Akpeki and invited Okowa to iron out the differences, after which he asked Akpeki to return to the PDP. Today, Akpeki is back to the fold and operating as Chief Strategist to Governor Okowa.
There is also the case of another apostle, Chief Ighoyota Amori, who emerged as Senator for Delta Central senatorial district in 2015, but dethroned later by another Ibori disciple supposed to be his subordinate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who had switched to the opposition. Amori, who has stood with Ibori all the years since the GDM days is certainly not pleased with the happenings in the Ibori family.
The impudence of it is that Senator Omo-Agege, currently a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, snatched power from him on the platform of another party, Labour Party, LP, with Ogboru, the man the Ibori family love to hate and who also loathes the Ibori dynasty.
Ibori, according to an insider, is concerned about Amori’s catch-22, a political tactician he respects and is looking at some options in 2019 to make up for the troubles. The former governor is also attending to several other matters affecting the political family.
The Ibori political family comprising the five key leaders, apostles and disciples is enveloping and it is deep-rooted in the state, the reason it is the most powerful political machinery behind the Peoples Democratic Party in the state. People like Chief Benjamin Elue, Prof Amos Utuama, both former deputy governors of the state, former Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay and the incumbent, Mr. Festus Agas are all Ibori disciples. Similarly, Senator Omo-Agege and Chief Ayiri Emami, a top-ranking Itsekiri chief and business mogul, both APC chieftains in the state are Ibori disciples.
Plots To outmaneuver Ibori and PDP
To cause the downfall of the Ibori political empire and PDP in the state, the opposition symbolized by APC must do a much bigger work than it is doing now. It will, however, remain an uphill task. Former governorship candidate and leader of APC in the state, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, governorship aspirants, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, Chief Great Ogboru, Rt Hon Victor Ochei, Prof Patrick Utomi and other leaders of the party also have to sink their differences and build a stronger party to outwit Ibori and his team. They must also undertake to support whoever wins the party’s governorship ticket at the primaries to be able to put up a formidable battle against the PDP.
The APC and other parties had variously in the past accused the PDP of rigging itself to power. Though the PDP never agreed that it rigged election in the state, it is also obvious that unless the APC has devised a better rigging plan, it may not be able to rig out PDP in the state.