By Nelson Egware
The news came like a thunderbolt on January 28, 2021-The passing of Hon Tim Owhefere, the iconic late Majority Leader of the Delta State House of Assembly and member representing Isoko North Constituency.
Tim, as he was fondly called, arguably died a fulfilled man having been pivotal to milestone legislative laws enacted in the state for about 14 years. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cut short the mourning of the passage of the Majority Leader by announcing the date for the conduct of a by-election as stipulated by law.
And so the stage was set for an epic contest to replace the fallen Iroko from Isoko nation INEC, after deliberations, on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, fixed April 10, 2021, for the by-election and directed the political parties to align with the timetable released for determining their candidates for the poll.
The announcement by the electoral umpire meant that political parties were expected to conduct party primaries and schedule campaigns within the stipulated time.
As the clock ticked, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Isoko North commenced the process of picking a candidate from the list of aspirants mainly from the Owhe Kingdom where the late Hon. Tim Owhefere hailed from.
At the end of the exercise which was not without some deft political manoeuvring and horse-trading, the PDP on March 18, 2021, voted for Mr Jude Ogbimi, an American based Forensic Accountant as its candidate for the by-election. Ogbimi incidentally contested the election in 2019 with the late Tim Owhefere. So, his emergence was not completely strange.
In his acceptance speech, after the vote by party faithful, he pledged to unify the party ahead of the by-election. But the greater surprise came when the PDP unveiled a 13-man Campaign Council headed by the State Commissioner for Transport, Engr. Oviemuno Oghoore, to campaign in all the 13 federal wards in the local government and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa indicated interest to lead the party throughout the campaigns in all the wards.
Not many believed Okowa until he attended the campaign flag-off at Owhelogbo, the home town of former Secretary to the State Government, Comrade Ovuozourie Macaulay. Speaking at the rally, Governor Okowa, said the PDP was being repositioned from the grassroots to the national level to enable the party to provide the needed leadership that Nigerians earnestly seek.
He noted that Nigerians have gone through untold hardship since the PDP left the government at the centre in 2015, stressing that all issues confronting the nation would be a thing of the past by the time the party reclaims political power in 2023. The Governor told the people of Isoko North to vote massively for the PDP candidate in the forthcoming by-election, Mr Jude Ogbimi to enable him to occupy the gap created by the demise of Hon. Tim Owhefere. “I am truly excited with the turn out of members and supporters of the PDP to this ward to ward campaign rally.
Isoko North people surprised me with their impressive participation at the flag-off of this campaign rally. They should translate this into a massive vote for the PDP candidate in the April 10 by-election. “We are building the party ( PDP), from the grassroots to enable us to take over the government at the centre (Abuja) in 2023,” Okowa said, even as he thanked leaders of the party in Isoko North for the unity of purpose among them.
He disclosed that the massive road construction, the appointment of Isoko North people into key positions and the upgrade of the Ozoro Polytechnic to a full-fledged University of Science and Technology was a clear attestation of his love for the Isoko people.
At Emevor Ward 7, the Governor expressed the readiness of his administration to take over the construction of the Section A of the abandoned Emevor-Orogun road, Emevor. Okowa who said he was embarrassed by the state of the road leading to the town, added that he had already given approval to the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) to construct the Emevor bypass Road and also assured that his administration would construct a section of the abandoned Emevor-Orogun road.
The Governor said he was pained that the community had suffered untold hardship due to the poor state of the roads but assured that his administration would commence construction of the road before the end of the year. “I have listened to the leaders of the community and I also saw it for myself on our way coming that the road leading to the community is totally bad. I have been told that NDDC has awarded the road for construction, but have also been abandoned and we cannot continue to allow our people to suffer. “I’ve also been told that the road is a long road leading to Orogun. What I want to assure you is that we may not be able to take the full construction to Orogun now, but we will make sure the stretch covering the Emevor town is done as soon as possible.
The NDDC can continue from where we will stop. Let me also let you know that only a few days ago, I gave approval for the construction of the bypass road through DESOPADEC,” Okowa stated. Earlier in his address, Leader of the Ward and Commissioner Representing Isoko Ethnic Nationality in the Board of DESOPADEC, Dr Paul Oweh, said Emevor people lacked several amenities despite their support for the ruling party since 1999. He appealed to the Governor to use his good office to approve the construction of the Emevor Bypass Road, the Emevor-Orogun Road and the fencing of Emevor Mixed Secondary School. Also speaking, Executive Assistant to the Governor on Health Monitoring, Dr Nelson Ejakpovi thanked the Governor for the visit, adding that the PDP had never lost in the community in all elections since 1998. He stressed that the Emevor people had always demonstrated their support for the PDP by voting massively for the party, adding that April 10 won’t be any different. The campaign train also visited Oghara-Iyede Ward 2 and Otor-Iyede Ward 1 where the Governor approved the immediate construction of a secondary school at Otor-Iyede. Presenting the party’s flag to the candidate, the PDP state Chairman, Olorogun Kingsley Esiso charged members of the party to work as a team to ensure that the party emerged victorious in the by-election. Esiso said that the PDP was sure of victory because of the people-oriented projects and human capital development of the Senator Okowa led administration in all parts of the state.
In their separate remarks, Senator James Manager representing Delta South senatorial district in the National Assembly and the former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Leo Ogor, said Isoko North was home for PDP and expressed hope that the party would emerge victorious come April 10. Also speaking, the Chairman of PDP in Isoko North, Prince Godwin Ogorugba, the Commissioner for Transport, Hon. Oviemuno Oghoore and Comrade Ovouzuorie Macaulay said that they were happy with the unity among stakeholders of the party in the area and urged the teeming supporters to come out in their large numbers to cast their vote for the PDP candidate.
Other speakers at the rally including community leaders thanked Governor Okowa for linking all parts of the state with good road network and bridges, even as they appealed to him not to relent in his resolve to build a Stronger Delta.
The PDP candidate, Mr. Jude Ogbimi thanked Governor Okowa, the leadership of the party at the state and local government levels for the opportunity given to him and pledged to represent the interest of all when he emerges victorious. At Otibio Ward 13 and Oyede Ward 12, the Governor approved the construction of internal roads in the communities while at Okpe-Isoko Ward 8, the home of veteran journalist and Chairman Delta Broadcasting Service DBS Asaba, Comrade Felix Ofou, the Governor approved the rehabilitation of the Okpe-Isoko Grammar School. He said his administration had commenced the reconstruction of the 26km Isoko Ring Road commencing from Ellu-Ovrode-Ofagbe-Orie-Okpe-Isoko-Uro to Ada-Irri in Isoko North and Isoko South Local Government Areas. At the grand finale of the campaign in Ozoro, the governor assured the people that the newly created University of Science and Technology, Ozoro would take off in September.
The governor had before the rally, inspected facilities at the Polytechnic in readiness for the take-off of the university, and commended Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) for its contribution to the development of the polytechnic. He told the people that he was at the school to see what was on the ground and what was needed for the take-off of the university, and announced that a Project Management Committee had been inaugurated to ensure smooth take-off of the institution. “With the extent of the facilities that they have, I am convinced that the place is ready to go fully as a University of Science and Technology. There is no doubt that we have a few things that we will need in future for the purpose of expansion but with what they have, we are all fully set for the initial take off,” he said.
To the PDP leaders and members in Isoko North Okowa said: “You have made me proud and am very glad that the crowd at the various rallies has put fear in the hearts of the opposition. Isoko North PDP leaders have made me proud and am glad because the outcome of the election will be outstanding,”
He promised to construct an accident and emergency centre and provide an ambulance for the General Hospital Ozoro and also assured the people on the prompt completion of the Ozoro Modern Market.
Hundreds of defectors from the All Progressive Congress (APC) were received by the State Chairman, Chief Kingsley Esiso. Esiso at the rally said the APC was synonymous with insecurity, hunger and poverty and urged the people to vote for the PDP in the by-election. He assured the decampees of their rightful place in the party and urged them to work assiduously for the victory of the PDP. Director-General of the PDP Campaign Council, Hon. Oviemuno Oghoore, assured the governor of total support from the people because of the upgrade of Ozoro Polytechnic to a full fledged University. Chairman Isoko North PDP, Prince Godwin Ogorugba said the party was united ahead of the Saturday April 10 by-election, assuring that the party would win massively but appealed to the Governor to prevail on the contractor building the Ozoro Modern Market to intensify efforts to ensure its early completion.
On Saturday April 10, voting commenced early enough as materials were promptly distributed by INEC. Voters came out in their numbers to perform their civic responsibility. In all the wards it was reported to be peaceful except for a unit in Ovrode where thugs allegedly destroyed election materials and some units in Okpe-Isoko Ward 8, where the card readers failed to accredit numerous voters who came out to exercise their franchise.
At the end of voting, the Returning Officer for the by-election, Professor Christopher Onosemuode of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources Effurun, who announced the result, announced that Mr Ogbimi scored 29,421 votes to defeat eight other candidates. Prof. Onosemuode who is Dean of Postgraduate School of FUPRE, said the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Emmanuel Tabuko, scored 2,543 votes to emerge second while the candidate of the ADP, Agose Ogagaoghene, came third with 66 votes. “I, Prof. Christopher Onosemuode of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, FUPRE, Effurun, Delta State, hereby declare that Mr Jude Ogbimi of the PDP having scored the highest number of valid votes is hereby declared winner of the Isoko North Constituency by-election. “The PDP candidate is hereby declared winner in line with electoral guidelines,” he said. In his reaction, Ogbimi said he was grateful to God and the people of Isoko North for the victory assuring that he will give the people the representation that they truly deserve.
He commended Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for his support and his monumental contributions to the development of Delta. “We give glory to God for this victory and I must also thank Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for his support especially in joining us to campaign in the 13 Wards of the Local Government Area. “Gov. Okowa has created an enabling environment for the youths of Delta to thrive and as long as we are representing the people we will ensure that the people gets what they deserve. “Although two years is quite a short time but not an excuse not to put things in place. We will continue from where my predecessor stopped and ensure that what’s due to the constituents gets to them,” he stated.
The significance of the PDP’s victory is anchored on the support from Governor Ifeanyi Okowa who despite his busy schedule spent four days in Isoko traversing the various wards to campaign to the people.
The campaign afforded him yet another opportunity to have first-hand knowledge of the needs of the people and how best to address them. For instance, on the strength of the Governor’s promise to tackle the Emevor-Orogun road which remained the main challenge of the Emevor man, the people kept to their side of the bargain by polling the highest votes of 5,236 for the PDP out of total registered voters of 8,582 representing 61 per cent. As the race to 2023 draws nearer, it is imperative that the same ward-to-ward model used for the Isoko North by-election campaign be applied. It remained a sure way to victory for the “umbrella”. Okowa’s populist agenda tinged with the goodwill of Isoko people had clearly strengthened the long-standing dominance and supremacy of PDP in Isoko land.
Egware is Senior Special Assistant (Media) to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa