By Emma Amaize
When some political leaders of Urhobo, Delta Central converged at Asaba, the state capital, April 8, 2021, to establish a political pressure group, Delta Central, DC-23, that would galvanize the process of producing a governor of Urhobo extraction under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2023, it was distinguishable that it was an ambitious project.
The group, convened by Chief Ighoyota Amori, a close associate of former Governor James Ibori, caused some political undulations as it went about its plan in a jiffy, inaugurating a selection committee to assess Urhobo governorship aspirants with a view to picking a consensus candidate, which it possibly expected the PDP to validate.
Shortly after, especially with the burst of meetings and tactical engagements of the group that practically paraded all the PDP governorship aspirants of Urhobo ancestry as members, it attracted the attention of the leadership of the party in the senatorial district, which signalled the initiators overrunning an analogous political structure to that of the political party.
Sources said interconnection of the Okowa administration became a problem, as cabinet members eyeing the office of governor, who are DC-23 members, became deeply engrossed in machinations for power, forcing Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in May, last year, to disband his cabinet, citing serious distractions ahead of 2023.
He said: “If we do not take that action, I may have an Exco that stays permanently divided in the next two years, and that will not enable me to achieve my vision. So, I thought that there was a need to rework the Exco in such a manner that we operate within the least stress, where those in Exco will know that their mind is fixated more on what we are able to achieve in the next two years, rather than in their private ambitions and beliefs.”
The first acceptability crisis that the group ran into was the allegation that DC-23 was a contrivance of Ibori from Delta Central to pass off his nominee, Olorogun David Edevbie, on the PDP and Okowa.
DC-23 has been battling to manage the off beam image since formation. Only one of the governorship aspirants, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, understood to be independent of Ibori in his actions, has been audacious enough to confront the Amori-led group on the matter.
Gbagi, who considers himself a friend of Ibori contrary to the opinion of skeptics that he is at daggers draws with the former governor, was allegedly fraternizing with DC-23 because of political appropriateness. He, recently, posited that, in his conversations with Ibori at both Oghara and Abuja, the political leader expressed the opinion that he (Gbagi) has the capability to turn the state around.
Only a few agree that Ibori has no link with DC-23. Few months after Okowa won his second tenure in 2019, he and other PDP leaders in Delta Central declared, at a closed-door meeting in his Oghara country home, that Okowa would hand over power to the district in 2023, according to the subsisting power rotation arrangement among the three senatorial districts of Delta.
Urhobo leaders, who attended the meeting, include a former Minister of Information and political father of Okowa, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, Amori, former Chief Political Strategist to Delta State Government, now an All Progressives Congress, APC, leader in Delta Central, Chief Paulinus Akpeki, and Chief Mike Michael Adiotomre.
The strategic meeting was to ambuscade the Ijaw and Isoko nationalities in Delta South which campaign for 2023 governorship was mushrooming at the time.
Ibori, who spoke at the meeting, was quoted as saying: “Governor Okowa, during his campaign, promised to handover to Delta Central and, as a gentleman and promise keeper, we have no doubt in our minds that he will do everything within his God given powers to adhere strictly to his promise.
“We expect all genuine members of our great party, PDP, to comply with the power rotation agreement. It is for the good of all, majority and minority, the weak and the strong, for a balanced society.
“Equity, justice and good conscience are some of the major pillars of constitutional democracy, hence PDP in Delta State encourages power rotation to enable both the majority and minority groups and or ethnic nationalities via senatorial districts power arrangements to produce governor, and the agreement remains sacrosanct.
“Let me also state clearly that 2023 is still much ahead and it is not time yet for political campaigns, but we shall commence primary arrangements and wide consultations in the near future. We must remain united and avoid unnecessary division and attacks on personalities within and outside Delta Central as we make steady progress towards the historic inauguration of the next Urhobo governor come 2023.
“Urhobos spread across eight local governments have prominent sons and daughters that are eligible to contest the 2023 governorship slot and we are very sure that at the end of the race, the best among them shall emerge as governor based on the majority votes of all eligible voters in the state”.
Amori, Oyovbaire rebut allegation against Ibori
The formation of DC-23, two years after in 2021, and commencement of screening arrangement for Urhobo governorship aspirants were understood to be a culmination of the Urhobo agenda to take over power in 2023. But Amori, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the matter, maintained that Ibori had no link to DC-23 formation, let alone the group being a contraption by him to palm off Edevbie as Urhobo governorship candidate.
Oyovbaire corroborated his claim that the group was not created to thrust upon a particular candidate on Urhobo, explaining that it was simply to ensure that the gentleman agreement on rotation of governorship in PDP, which made it possible for Okowa to emerge as governor, was implemented in favour of Delta Central in 2023.
The former Minister of Information, who counselled the group against some actions that depicted it as challenging the authority of the party to put forward and present a governorship candidate, said his finding was that Ibori was not aware of DC-23 until after the group was formed.
Sunday Vanguard findings indicate that Ibori has not openly associated with DC-23 at its meetings and, apart from Gbagi, who had complained publicly, other governorship aspirants have not grumbled about his purported unseen hands.
Oyovbaire told this paper that other governorship aspirants would certainly not be comfortable with DC-23 if the platform was to foist Edevbie on them.
Oghenesivbe tells a secret
Fred Oghenesivbe, just reinstated as Executive Assistant (Communications) to Governor Okowa and ex- DC-23 member, who fell out with the leadership, last year, conversely, let the cat out of the bag, saying: “As a true son of Urhobo nation, I will not be party to the deceit going on in DC-23. The group does not represent the interest of the entire Urhobo nation, but that of the promoters and their principal, Olorogun David Edevbie.
“I have nothing against Edevbie as a Deltan and illustrious son of Urhobo nation, but the truth must be unveiled so that those who have genuine alternative interests in other aspirants can withdraw their membership of DC-23 and move on to project their choice aspirants before it is too late.
“They alleged that my body language suggests considerable loyalty to Okowa administration as far as their 2023 agenda is concerned, which was why Chief Amori had to repudiate his promise to make me the Head of DC-23 Media, an Exco position, and was planning to create an irrelevant Adhoc publicity committee for me to chair. “Therefore, the story of DC-23 not being for the interest of any governorship aspirant is completely misleading, not true and should be ignored in all ramification.
“The cabal also agreed among themselves to use certain persons in the group and dump them later, and I made the list of that unfortunate calculation.
“A member of their caucus revealed the secret to me out of patriotism, recognizing my pedigree and the promising future of my political communication career in politics”.
Amori debunked the claims of Oghenesivbe when the controversy was triggered, last year, pointing out that they were figments of his imagination as he never promised him the portfolio he demanded.
However, it seems DC-23 has come to comprehend that its choice of consensus candidate goes nowhere, as it is not binding on either the governor or the party.
The Urhobo lobby group also appears to have been outdistanced by Okowa who knew where it was headed from the beginning and took it by surprise.
He took the wind off its sail when he asked the group and others to submit names of its selected governorship aspirants for scrutiny by him, meaning the power to make 2023 PDP governor is not in the hands of DC-23, as was widely believed. Five governorship aspirants: Gbagi; Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly; Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, a former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC; Edevbie, former Chief of Staff, Government House; and Chief James James Augoye, a former Commissioner for Works, are battling for DC-23’s nod for the last three standing, which names the group will finally submit to Okowa.
Edevbie understandably enjoys the support of Urhobo political class still loyal to Ibori and has a network of supporters across the state, while Oborevwori’s acceptability has swollen with some politicians spread across the three senatorial districts campaigning for him.
Aguariavwodo is a noble man that wants to be given a chance to prove his resolve and Augoye, a political son of Oyovbaire, believes he has what it takes to govern Delta.
Gbagi, considered as controversial by many, is currently the toast of many Deltans in the three senatorial districts, who truly desire a break from the ruling PDP hegemony in the state.
He is a founding member of the party, an industrialist running with ideas and is not banking on any political godfather to become PDP’s standard bearer.
Lately, elder statesman, Senator Patrick Osakwe, said Gbagi had paid his dues, urging PDP and Deltans to do the needful concerning his 2023 ambition.
Nobody knows for certain who DC-23 top three aspirants are, but as events unfold in the next few days and weeks, the picture will be clearer.
DPV, DC-23 alleged romance
However, National Chairman of Delta Political Vanguard, DPV, a political pressure group in Delta, Evangelist Michael Diden, aka Ejele, reportedly disclosed, penultimate week, at a gathering, that both DPV and DC-23 had reached understanding to support and project any governorship aspirant nominated by Okowa. Neither Amori nor any other DC-23 official has commented on Ejele’s claim.
The supposition of Ejele, a gritty political associate of Okowa, foreshadows the news making the round that the governor has already cut DC-23 to size.
Sunday Vanguard also learned that some Urhobo political leaders were planning to form another pressure group to overrun the DC-23 in Delta Central if the leaders refuse to give the governor his dues as leader of the party.
Ijaw fate hangs on Otuaro, Manager
While DC-23 has found itself in the dilemma of presenting an Urhobo candidate that will be acceptable to Okowa, Sunday Vanguard learned that the Ijaw for 2023 Governor Lobby Group, steered by former Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, was also working on picking a consensus Ijaw governorship candidate to make the task stress-free for Okowa.
The Ijaw contest is between the Deputy Governor, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, who believes that God has anointed him to take over from his boss, Okowa, and Senator James Manager representing Delta South in the Senate. Undeniably, Ijaw ethnic nationality is fuming that the governor was considering power rotating to Urhobo in 2023 when it was Ijaw politicians in Delta South that amassed the votes that swung victory to him in the party’s 2014 governorship primary election when mainstream Urhobo schemed against him and Anioma nation.
Manager, in particular, does not see why Okowa should abandon him for any other person knowing the role he (Manager) played in his emergence in the 2014 primary and before then in Abuja when a former governor of the state insisted that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan should allow him produce a different candidate other than Okowa as the party’s governorship candidate for 2015 elections.