January 4, 2020

Can Ibori still determine next Delta gov?

Ibori, ICPC

James Ibori

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta


LOVE him or dislike him, one man, Chief James Ibori, who ruled Delta State from 1999 to 2007 has remained the political godfather of the state, deciding with the aid of his influential political machinery, Ibori political family, succeeding governors of the oil-rich state since he left power roughly 13 years ago.

Handover of power by the incumbent governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, is not less than three years, five months away, but former Minister of State (Education) and billionaire business magnate, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, has started the race.

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As at January 1, 2020, he is the only known Deltan in the race for Government House, Asaba, and has upset quite some political calculations, but definitely, many will join the fray as 2023 inches closer.

By the unwritten power arrangement among political leaders of the state, though a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP agreement, it is the turn of Delta Central senatorial district (Urhobo) to produce the next governor after Okowa. Gbagi is an Urhobo like Ibori.
How he navigated the power device and installed himself as the undisputed political leader of the state is known to him and some trusted friends but you cannot deny his political sagacity.

When he left power in 2007, he was behind the emergence of his successor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri from Delta South senatorial district, who ruled the state until 2015.

No matter what people say, it was power shift from Delta Central, Ibori’s district to Delta South, comprising Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri ethnic groups.

How he sorted out Anioma debacle

The fear in 2015 when Senator Okowa took over was whether the power shift arrangement would run full circle with Delta North senatorial district (Anioma) clinching it. Even while on political time-out outside the country, Ibori, to the incredulity of political pundits, commandeered the final forces that settled the matter in favour of Delta North, specifically Senator Okowa, who is a member of his political family.

To ensure that nothing went wrong with the power rotation arraignment, he was on ground in 2019 to plan and ensure that Okowa got his second term ticket to complete Delta North’s tenure in 2023.

If anything, the political class in the state, but not the members of the leading opposition, All Progressives Congress, APC, respect the former governor for the accomplishment.

Sometime, last year, when some politicians from some ethnic groups, particularly in Delta South drummed support for their ethnic groups to produce the next governor, he, alongside other Urhobo political leaders, including former Minister for Information, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, congregated and came out clearly that it was the turn of Urhobo in 2023 when Okowa would have completed his second tenure.

Still powerful
An impartial prognosis of the political power play in the state will show that the senatorial district that ought to produce next governor is Delta Central, but what cannot be predicted is who will be the flagbearer. Is Ibori still powerful to determine the next governor, the unprejudiced answer is yes.

No doubt, Ibori, over the years, has assisted members of his political family to the plum job, but he has refused to give his backing to opposition candidates.

The speculation is that a one-time member of his political family, currently Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, an Urhobo, may emerge as Delta APC governorship standard-bearer in 2023, but Ibori does not have the character of working for opposition candidates.

Gbagi, who contested PDP’s ticket in 1999 with Ibori alongside Prof Oyovbaire believes that as the oldest founding member of the party eyeing the governorship seat in 2023, his friend, Ibori, who knows his capability would support him.

Those that do not know the relationship between Ibori and Gbagi insinuate that they are political foes, but the former minister, who has not decamped from the party since formation, told journalists recently that Ibori has distinguished himself as a political leader in the state and nobody can take it away from him. He told those who asked him if he would consult Ibori on his 2023 campaign, that the former governor was indeed, his elder brother and there was definitely no way he would not consult him as a political leader, not only in Delta Central, but in the entire state.

No favoured candidate for nowSo far, Ibori has not told anybody that he has a candidate for 2023 governorship, nonetheless, many know that his political structure is strongly on ground in PDP in Delta Central to decide who clinches the party’s governorship ticket. It is suspected that Ibori has a soft spot for a member of his political family that sought the party’s governorship ticket in the past, but there has been whispering that if he throws his hat in the ring for him, Urhobo politicians in PDP will dump him and the candidate.

The former governor has not made any declaration as to his candidate in 2023 and remains the beautiful bride that all the aspirants must court to pave their path.

Except for Gbagi, who has come out to declare his interest, all other PDP members believed to have interest in the governorship seat from Delta Central are camouflaging their intention.

Very senior politicians from Delta Central and other senatorial districts of the state, who feel that Gbagi should emerge the party’s 2023 candidate by his pedigree, have not failed to speak on the Ibori factor in his emergence.

One politician advised him recently during his statewide consultations to meet with Ibori and ensure that any grey matter is resolved because 2023 is the appropriate time for him to take the state to higher heights. Save for Governor Okowa, Gbagi is the only governorship aspirant that apolitical elders of the state and PDP leaders, across the three senatorial districts feel that by his contributions to the development of the state, from outside government as an industrialist, he will lead the state aright if elected.
Elder statesman and former Minister of Information, Senator Edwin Clark, who is a political oracle in Delta state, had since endorsed Gbagi for 2023. He said at his Kiagbodo country home in Burutu local government area when the criminologist and lawyer visited him, “Chief Gbagi can be trusted and be vouched for because he had never been found wanting in his private and public ventures.”