By Emma Amaize
Matter at hand
As Governor of oil-rich Delta State from 1999-2007, glitzy and powerful Chief James Ibori, an Urhobo from Oghara, Ethiope West Local Government Area in Central senatorial district of the state, was brainy and competent to install his successor, an elegant Itsekiri from Abigborodo, Warri North Local Government Area in South senatorial district, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan.
Dr Uduaghan, a cousin to Ibori, who ruled from 2007 -2015 battled to fix his legatee, but was overawed by the armada of political forces. At the outset, he was focused on a North senatorial district beneficiary, with a retired Permanent Secretary, Government House, now late, Tony Obuh, as his preference. But he turned sharply at the 11th hour to Olorogun David Edevbie, an Ibori disciple and former Commissioner for Finance from the Central district as his final choice.
It was fruitless as the incumbent governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, from Owa-Alero, Ika North-East local government area, North senatorial district, commonly known as Anioma, overpowered Edevbie in the 2014 governorship primaries of the party and proceeded to win the governorship election in 2015, with tremendous support from Uduaghan who pulled all strings to ensure PDP remained in power in Delta State.
Okowa is in charge of affairs since he took over from Uduaghan and obviously until May, 2023 when his second tenure will terminate. Even in custody in a foreign country at the time of the 2014 governorship primaries, Ibori, who heads the political family that appropriated governing power in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was interested in who took over from Uduaghan and reportedly played more than a passing act.
Though the role he played and in whose interest is now a matter of discussion, as some political strategists maintain that if not for Ijaw votes that swayed the table, Okowa would have been caught up in a convoluted Urhobo plan fully backed by the apex Urhobo group Urhobo Progress Union, UPU, in 2014.
However, some posers have sprung among PDP top shots in the build-up to the 2023 governorship elections in the state: Does the current governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, have as much power as did his predecessors to determine his choice of PDP governorship standard-bearer? If he does, should he be allowed to exercise it? Or should he subject the power to other leaders to make the choice for him? And should other leaders listen and defer to him as the sitting governor on his successor?
What Ibori, Uduaghan, Okowa talked over
On the voiced encounter between Okowa and Ibori, a leading light of the Ibori political family, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, said on condition of anonymity: “Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and Chief James Ibori did not meet alone as reported. They were three that met – Ibori, Dr Uduaghan and Okowa.”
“What was deliberated was not the way it was inscribed. They met to confer on the guidelines for emergence of PDP governorship candidate for 2023, if you like, Okowa’s successor. Truly, the duo of Ibori and Okowa took extreme positions on the matter and Uduaghan found himself as the mediator between the two of them at the meeting.
“The three leaders agreed to start from where they stopped in their next meeting, not that they have reached the point of specifying preferred candidates,” he added.
The high-flying politician, nevertheless, noted: “Okowa is not a political expert as portrayed by some persons and he is not also a saint for people to be saying that he was unwilling to hand over power to plunderers.”
If Okowa attempts to dishonour Ibori…
Also, a policymaker from North senatorial district, Okowa’s home base, who buzzed Saturday Vanguard, during the week, said: “I can tell you that Okowa and Ibori have not engaged in any categorical discussion on Okowa’s successor, but it is true that they are not on the same page on the matter.”
“I can, however, bet with anybody that Ibori will crush Okowa if he does not retrace his step. Where will he pass in Urhobo land (Delta Central) to make anybody governor without passing through Ibori? The governor thinks he is strong in Delta state, but hear me, Ibori has the Abuja connection and what it takes to stop him.
“In fact, if Okowa does not take time, he will push Ibori into the waiting hands of All Progressive Congress, APC, where the Deputy Senate President, DSP Ovie Omo-Agege, is in the offing to receive his political mentor, Ibori. And together, they will make Urhobo wholly a no-go-area for Okowa and PDP in 2023. We know the PDP past rigging patterns in the North and South senatorial districts and will shut them down.” he stated.
An anonymous political spectator, who spoke to this paper, counselled: “The governor should not allow anybody to push him into differing with his political leader, Chief Ibori. Everybody knows what Ibori did to ensure his victory as PDP governorship candidate even when he (Ibori) was outside the country’s shores. The political family, which the governor is part of, and Ibori the undisputed head will be the loser. And that is not good for 2023. Both leaders should look at the matter impassively in the interest of their political family.”
At present, Ibori does not exercise the kind of authority he used to in the PDP and affairs of the state because the governor had since caged him and he (governor) calls the shots.
Face-off, not fighting dirty—MSD
Nonetheless, a group, Movement for Stronger Delta, MSD, reacting to the development between Okowa and Ibori, said, January 17, that the two leaders were not “fighting dirty” as an online publication indicated, but have only a “face-off “ on the inevitable as regards Okowa’s successor.
National Co-ordinator, Dr Festus Bomo Patani, in a widely publicized statement, asserted: “Finally, we want to state categorically once again that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and Chief James Ibori are not ‘fighting dirty’ over any successor. In fact, the story (Saturday Vanguard report) itself makes that succinctly clear when the writer stated in paragraphs 20 and 21 that: ‘Thought-provoking, however, is the information corroborated by multiple sources that Governor Okowa had met with the former governor, Chief James Ibori, to discuss the issue of his successor in 2023.’‘Saturday Vanguard learned that Ibori pointed out his favourite candidate (names withheld) to Okowa, but the Governor opposed his choice and voiced his first choice (names also withheld) based on competence. Both men differed but mutually agreed that they would settle score at the primaries if there was no meeting point before then’.
“That, fellow Deltans, ladies and gentlemen, is the true position of things. QED,” Patani, declared.
Despite the concealed line of attack, pretensions and grandstanding of two sides, what is undeniable is that Ibori and Okowa are singing different melodies on Delta PDP 2023 governorship candidate and by extension, the next governor of the state since the party enjoys the strongest patronage of Deltans.
DC-23 goes for final 3 aspirants
Meanwhile, Delta Central-2023 (DC-23), the Central district lobby group for 2023 governor, led by Deputy National Organizing Secretary of PDP, Chief Ighoyota Amori, last Sunday, summoned five governorship aspirants to further cut down to three the names the group will submit to Governor Okowa.
One of the Urhobo governorship aspirants that was earlier screened out by DC-23 Screening Committee and reported to have let go, Hon Ejaife Odebala, was gathered not to have surrendered his ambition and still in the race.
The Professor Nyerhovwo Tonkari-headed screening committee sent for former Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborvewori, former Chief of Staff, Government House, Olorogun David Edevbie, former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo and ex-Commissioner for Works, Chief James Augoye, to further assess them and reserved its verdict on the last three, as the task, is in phases, and still ongoing.
As at Wednesday, there were already permutation that Rt. Hon Oborevwori, Olorogun Edevbie and Olorogun Gbagi may likely emerge as DC-23 top three, which Governor Okowa, among others, is waiting for while seeking the face of God. As at the time of this report, DC-23 had not come out with it’s last three standing.
“Wherever Okowa go, we go” —DPV
But as if admonishing Central district’s political leaders and others opposed to Governor Okowa’s choice for 2023, the most influential PDP pressure group at the moment in the state, Delta Political Vanguard, DPV, with membership spread across the three senatorial districts, last weekend, at Boji Boji, Agbor, in what it termed New Year get-together, decided ahead the 2023 governorship election that: “Wherever Okowa goes, we go”.
To be sure, it was on the wings of DPV that Okowa clinched power in the PDP 2014 governorship primaries, 2015 and 2019 governorship elections. National Chairman of the group, Chief Michael Diden, aka Ejele, said the group had resolved to work with other groups to deliver the next governor of the state, urging governorship aspirants on PDP platform to pray harder to enable Governor Okowa and other leaders to choose any of them for the 2023 race.
Diden, an evangelist and strong-minded political associate of Gov Okowa, professed the group was unwavering on the issue of 2023 governorship and will not pay attention to power brokers that oppose Okowa’s choice of successor.
Another key member of DPV, currently serving as director of protocol in Okowa administration, Mr Ifeanyi Eboigbe, said the body would stand solidly behind the governor in the choice of his successor. Eboigbe told the mammoth gathering that Okowa enjoys the overwhelming confidence and loyalty of DPV and indeed the entire state PDP, having proved a respected and astute leader.
Okowa’s magistrate, judge and chief justice —Esiso, PDP chair
Further fastening the position of DPV, state Chairman of the party, Chief Kingsley Esiso, who attended the event, a political convention of sort, also made it copiously clear that in respect of 2023 governorship, Governor Okowa was the “magistrate, judge and chief justice.”
With the public declaration of Chief Esiso, it is apparent that the state executive of the party was solidly behind the governor and whoever he picks for governor. Notable PDP governorship aspirants, including Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, Olorogun David Edevbie, Chief James Augoye, Chief Abel Esievo and Chief Ejaife Odebala, who recognized the significance and command of DPV in their expedition, dignified the occasion to touch base with the group.
I’ll not succumb to those pushing me against God’s will —Okowa
Speaking, Tuesday, at a Thanksgiving Service at the Government House Chapel, Asaba, Okowa, who has become very adept in obfuscating his political strategy, urged Deltans to pray for the will of God to be done on the issue of next governor of the state, but was quick to add: “As a man, I will also try to avoid people pushing me to a direction that God is not pleased with because if God has made a choice and we go in the wrong direction, it will not augur well for the state.”
“But one thing is sure, whoever will succeed me must be one who keeps the fire in this altar burning, and God must direct me on the choice of the person. I can never take the place of God in deciding who will succeed me; I will pray for God to direct me and not man, so that I don’t go in the wrong direction.
“Let us approach the next few months with oneness in love. Towards the end of every administration, there are usually distractions here and there. We are not stopping people from playing politics but we need to realize that there is a purpose and we must remain loyal and committed to governance until May 29, 2023.
“This is a year of politics and as politicians we cannot avoid it; pray with us, pray for us and pray about the state. Whatever positions we are contesting for, let us seek the face of God because if you genuinely pray God will reveal His will for you,” he said, re-echoing his statement, last year, at a press briefing, that divinity, not man, determines power.
A flurry of political activities are on across the state, compelling high-level consultations and secret meetings.
While the politicking gathers steam with complex intrigues and manoeuvring, ahead of Delta 2023, it is palpable that Okowa is poised to assert his authority as the man in the saddle, even as he seeks the grace of God.