•Enjoys Ibori’s support despite Uduaghan’s defection
•Ours is to work and the people are seeing it – Gov Okowa
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
THERE are some few things you cannot deny Senator Ifeanyi Okowa since he took over as Governor of Delta State in 2015. He is resilient and intelligent, a good apprentice of his political leader and mentor, Chief James Ibori and he fights most of his political wars to the confusion of his challengers.
Shadowing from 1986 when the Owa-Alero-born medical doctor was in private medical practice as Director, Victory Medical Centre, Igbanke and much later 1991-1993 at what time he was Secretary and later Chairman of Ika North East, Okowa probably never imagined that he would be governor, but by divine programming and struggles, he became the first indigene of Delta North senatorial district (Anioma) to preside over the affairs of the state.
One of the govs that calls the shot in PDP
He not only calls the shots at present in the party in his state, he is one of the two governors that unquestionably dictate the affairs of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Nigeria at the moment, the other being Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state.
No visible internal opponent for now
As at the time of this report, there was no politician in his party jostling for the 2019 governorship ticket with him. His political leader, Ibori and party leaders across the three senatorial districts of the state had since endorsed him for a second tenure. His known opponents are from other political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress, APC.
His sturdiness, brainpower and appeal gave him the governorship ticket of the party in 2014, as his predecessor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, though conducted free and fair primaries, supported another aspirant. The leadership of the party and stalwarts in the three senatorial districts of the state appear to have settled for him for 2019.
He has also frontally embarked on a radical erosion control project in Asaba, the state capital, a task none of his predecessors from the creation of the state in 1991 undertook because of the complex nature and huge capital layout. His supporters call him road master, a sobriquet for his so many road projects in the state. But those , who think otherwise claimed he is a vindictive person.
Has the blessing of Ibori political family
From Ibori, the leader of the Ibori political family that rules the state to the top members, including Senators Peter Nwaoboshi, James Manager, Ighoyota Amori, Chief Strategist to the Delta State Government, Chief Paulinus Akpeki, all of them want Okowa back in 2019.
Senator Amori told Saturday Vanguard: “He (Okowa) is a very intelligent person and is holding forth for the Ibori political family. He knows this, we have said it in his presence and we have said it behind him.”
Praising the governor for his dexterity, he noted: “Unfortunately, he came at a time when the economy was bad, but in spite of that, he is still managing to put things right and stabilizing the state. Look at the flood-prone Asaba, the Airport, rehabilitation and construction of roads, he is paying salary and doing a lot of other things. Yes, people will complain that they do not have enough, but you do not have is out of it and you do not have enough is natural.”
No clear-cut agreement on handover
Uduaghan in defense of attacks against him on his earlier resistance to Okowa, indicated recently that there was no agreement to handover to Okowa, a position Okowa affirmed years back.
The governor’s words: “I think the race was open. When you say there was understanding, you are probably saying there was a formal meeting where we agreed that it must be me, no no. We did not have such a meeting. You know for a long time, he (Ibori) was not within the state.”
“I think that some people just assumed that having done the 2006 primaries in which I came out a strong second and decided to work in the best interest of the party, that I should be the next successor. However, talk about sitting down in a meeting to decide that this is the way it should be; we never had such a meeting,” he added.
Still a political mystery
In fact, the governor’s triumph in the 2014 primaries also showed that he is a good political strategist with far-reaching grassroots support. Some of his supporters said in the absence of Ibori while he was Secretary to State Government, SSG, under Uduaghan and later, Senator representing Delta North senatorial district, Okowa had put in place a political structure across the three senatorial districts, and in the highly improbable event of APC “Akpabioing” or “Uduaghaning” his leader, Chief Ibori, he would have led PDP forces in a battle royal.
But what has really befuddled many was how very adroitly he (Okowa) made the party so uncomfortable for his predecessor that he had to dump PDP, last month (August), and the top leaders did not call for his head.
The governor’s style of politics holds many politicians in awe. A political tactician, who featured in the governments of the first civilian governor of the state, Olorogun Felix Ibru (late), Chief Ibori and Dr. Uduaghan, said: “Okowa is one person you cannot put in a box because he is brilliant. You can be talking to him, he is listening but you may not know his position by his body language. The point is that he is calculating and you cannot commit him to an answer that he has not given you.”
Ibori recruited us – Okowa
Okowa, in a rare interview with Vanguard shortly after he assumed office, traced his spectacular rise in politics to Ibori, who he met 1996 in the Grassroots Democratic Movement, who even in jail in United Kingdom 18 years later, 2014 to be precise, insisted that he should be the next governor after Uduaghan.
“That was quite a long time. There was Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM, though a small party then during the Abacha time; then UNCP where we had the moneybags and big politicians, but somehow, some of us, the younger ones felt that we needed to create new politics, that was in 1996 and we found ourselves joining the Grassroots Democratic Movement.
What Ibori saw in me?
On the special attraction of Ibori towards him, he stated: “I think he found in me, somebody that is ready to work very hard at every point in time. Everything I want to do, without trying to praise myself, I think I am always very committed to it, right from my youth. I know I was very committed in the campaigns through the GDM. When we came to the PDP, I was very committed.”
“However, one thing too, he also saw in me somebody who would fight injustice at every point in time. The thing was showing at the beginning of PDP when he had already promised that he would make me Deputy Governor then. However, I just found that some people were oppressing others in my constituency, they could not speak their minds and people could not rise up to contest.
“They wanted to anoint people and I rose up against that and when the party did its maneuvering, I turned my back and said no, you cannot do this, and that was what led to the emergence of people like Nduka Irabor (renowned Guardian journalist). Because they did not give him a chance to come in and I felt he was a strong character and someone that could represent us, in that process of fighting the authorities then, it became an issue.
“ Therefore, he (Ibori) saw in me someone with a very strong character.
“ So I think that warmed us up because at every point in time, I always offered him the truth and told him what I thought was right and when things went wrong, others may speak politically, but I would speak based on the fact that what is right will always be right and what is wrong will always be wrong. I think that is what endeared me to him,” he said.
So far, a smooth run
Before the advent of PDP, he was Delta North Coordinator of the Grassroots Democratic Movement. He joined the PDP in 1998 and assisted in Governor James Ibori’s campaign in 1998/1999.
He was Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Delta State from July 1999 – April 2001, Water Resources Development from April 2001 – May 2003 and Health from September 2003 – October 2006
He resigned to contest in the 2007 PDP primaries for Governor of Delta State, but did not succeed. He lost to Uduaghan, who appointed him Secretary to the Delta state Government in June 2007. Okowa was elected Senator for Delta North, in Delta State, Nigeria, in the April 2011 general elections and contested again for the governorship ticket in 2014, which he won.
Not my match
During the week at a mega rally of PDP in Ughelli, Delta Central, where the party received over 5,000 defectors from APC, Okowa boasted that none of the governorship aspirants being paraded by the opposition for the 2019 battle had the experience or capability to match him.
“We do not talk too much, ours is to work and the people are seeing that. Otherwise, if they present any of them who want to run for governor of Delta State, they know they can’t, because they do not have the experience and those who are supposed to have the experience, have many issues and still can’t match me knowing, I know Delta State more,” he declared.
His words: “I commend the decampees. The next one is in Kwale because we will be receiving a very big fish there. We would also go to Delta South even though we all know that APC is not even on ground in Delta South and the handful that are there, we will be receiving them into the PDP.”
“I thank the people of Delta Central because we know that elections for us are normally difficult here, though we normally win here, it is normally difficult but this time, it won’t be difficult at all.
“With the class of people that have joined us today, election victory won’t be difficult here at all. There’s somebody who says he is national chairman, who talks too much (apparently referring to APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole), who had boasted severely that his party would take over Delta state. We shall see.”