As the race for who eventually occupies the Dennis Osadebe House Asaba as the Number One Citizen of Delta State heightens, there appears to be a general consensus that Delta Central Senatorial District is poised to produce the next occupant, according to what has been loosely termed the Zoning Formula of the Ruling Party PDP.
Delta Central Senatorial District comprises 8 LGAs out of the 25 that make up the entire State and it is predominantly occupied by the Urhobos that also form the highest homogeneous voting population of the state. It is therefore not surprising that the region is currently parading the highest number of governorship aspirants while only a handful from Delta South Senatorial District of mostly Ijaw extraction are also testing the waters to revalidate the sanctity of the PDP Zoning Formula that has brought about relative peace and stability in the political atmosphere of the State.
Political pundits have been gazing at the crystal ball, trying to decode the body language of the incumbent governor, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa in order to pitch tent in the camp where victory is sure. There was an initial pandemonium when viral media reports claimed that the Governor had decided to jettison the Zoning Arrangement as it was not enshrined in the PDP Constitution as the Primary Election that produced him as Governor also fielded contestants that cut across all 3 senatorial districts. At a quarterly media briefing held on 20th May 2021 in Asaba, the Governor was widely reported to have said, “a gentleman’s agreement is one that is not written. I want to believe that that is what it is supposed to be. There was no formal meeting where a gentleman’s agreement was reached and that is the truth as of today.” The dust arising from this controversy seems to have whittled down as the Governor may have resolved to look towards the direction of Delta Central for the choice of his successor come next year 2023 in honour of the ‘Unwritten Gentleman’s Agreement’.
In his recent remarks during the celebration of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) 90th Anniversary, where he was Special Guest of Honour, Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa called on Urhobo people to prune down the number of aspirants in the governorship race, advising that it was in their best interest to reduce the numbers. According to him, “when there are too many sons and daughters in a race, it creates its own challenge and I believe that the elders have understood this. There is a need to trim down and I believe that the time is now.” It is generally believed in some quarters that it was this crucial advice of the Governor that inspired the much acclaimed Screening Exercise of DC-23, a PDP Pressure Group that had been conscientiously and vigorously canvassing for the emergence of a Governor from Delta Central in the next dispensation, in accordance with the Zoning Formula.
12 Aspirants who had earlier declared their gubernatorial ambitions were invited and painstakingly examined by a Screening Committee with great emphasis on scrutiny and evaluation of their individual profiles, manifestos, leadership antecedents amongst others. Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, Chief James Augoye, Chief David Edevbie, Chief Kenneth Gbagi and Rt. Hon. Chief Sheriff Oborevwori emerged the Top 5 that their chances of victory would be further evaluated in that order here.
Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo
He appears to be the most prepared, going by his leadership antecedents and experience in public service. He has tested the waters of contesting and winning elections, being the only Deltan currently that had represented his constituency in both chambers of the National Assembly (House of Reps Member and Distinguished Senator). He also emerged the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) at a time when most of the aspirants were still learning the ropes in public service. He served some time with the incumbent Governor in the 7th Senate, and both of them can be likened to be contemporaries. There is no doubt that there is strong affinity between these two and it was not surprising that the Governor promptly picked him to chair his Transition Subcommittee on Infrastructure. The recommendations of the Subcommittee became an integral part of the SMART Agenda of the current administration and he was subsequently appointed Special Adviser on Infrastructure and Housing Development by the Governor. Aguariavwodo comes with a lot of experience that cuts across both private and public sectors and his humility in service is quite exceptional, which his critics have used to campaign against him in their illogical assertion that having risen to echelon heights of NDDC Managing Director, overseeing execution of intervention projects in 9 states, it was condescending of him to have agreed to serve as a Special Adviser to the Governor.
Chief James Augoye
He can be classified a newbreed of emerging leaders in Delta State as the highest political office he has ever occupied was being Commissioner for Works 2015-2019 in the Okowa Administration before the dissolution of the cabinet by his Principal on Tuesday 18th May 2021. He is reputed to be the longest serving Commissioner for Works in Delta State. Prior to this, he had been elected Councilor representing Ward 10 in Okpe Local Government Area 2004-2007, appointed Okpe Local Government Council Caretaker Chairman 2012-2014 and Okpe LGA Coordinator 2015 PDP Campaign. He was also appointed member of the Okpe Local Government Transition Committee, where he served as Chairman of the Internal Revenue Generating Committee in 2003. His critics are quick to point out that his leadership antecedents appear too localised and he lacks the exposure to tackle governance issues in a dynamic state like Delta that is long overdue to connect into a global network of emerging state economies like Lagos and derive inherent benefits of astronomical growth and rapid transformation with abundant opportunities.
Chief David Edevbie
He has quite a robust profile, making his debut in public service as Commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning under the Ibori Administration, Director of Finance and Strategy in the campaign of the then PDP presidential candidate, Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who later appointed him Principal Secretary upon his election as President in 2007, where he served until April 2010 after the death of President Yar’Adua. He would later go on to establish his own consulting firm Avantgarde and he stayed outside public limelight for a while, especially during the trial, conviction and eventual incarceration of Ibori in the UK. He returned to mainstream politics in 2014 to contest in the Delta State PDP gubernatorial primaries of 8th December 2014, where he lost to Okowa, emerging the First Runner-up, albeit with a wide margin. He was appointed Commissioner of Finance and Chief of Staff in the first and second tenures respectively of the Okowa Administration. Prior to his foray into public service, he had cut his teeth in international banking, rising to become the Head of Asia and Pacific Regions of Commonwealth Development Corporation in the United Kingdom, where he was born and bred. His critics believe he is being carried everywhere by former Governor James Ibori, largely perceived as his political godfather who had been spoon-feeding him from his political cradle till date.
Chief Kenneth Gbagi
He also comes with a rich profile as well but a personality wrapped in countless controversies. He is a lawyer, criminologist and entrepreneur who has dubbed himself the largest individual employer of labour in Delta State, having acquired immense wealth from buying and selling of properties at an early age by his claims. He is a security expert and instructor who has taught many top military officers hence his deep connections with the Military who controlled the wheel of fortune of Nigeria for a greater part of its post-independence years are not in doubt. After the creation of Edo and Delta states from the defunct Bendel State, a former Military Administrator of Delta between 1993 and 1994, then Colonel Bassey Asuquo, appointed him Chairman of Delta Development and Property Authority, DDPA. He was the Chairman, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, where he nobly tried to sanitize the country’s legal system during Obasanjo’s civilian presidency. He was later appointed Minister of State for Education between 2007–2010 during the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He also disregarded the Zoning Formula of the PDP by contesting against the incumbent Gov. Okowa and lost by scoring just 2 votes against the winning vote of 409.
Rt. Hon. Chief Sheriff Oborevwori
As the incumbent Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, he wields a lot of influence and has access to enormous financial resources to pursue his gubernatorial ambition with remarkable impact. He is in relation to the other aspirants, an emerging political personality who possesses minimal experience in governance. He only broke into limelight in 2015 after he was elected the Member Representing Okpe Constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly under PDP and was elected 2 years after Speaker on 11th May 2017, following the impeachment of the then Speaker, Rt. Hon. Monday Igbuya. He was re-elected in 2019 as Speaker for a second term, following his victory at the polls to represent his Okpe Constituency. Prior to this political elevation, he was President of Osubi Community in an inglorious era, characterised by incessant extortion of oil companies and property developers in the guise of collection of Community Development Levy popularly called ‘deve’ that led to the unfortunate mass exodus of oil industry investors from the Warri/Effurun axis and in turn, irreversibly crippled the economy of that region till date.
From the foregoing evaluation of the Top 5 aspirants of the PDP, the DC-23 Screening Committee must rise up against sentiments in its current task to further prune down the number to 3 as touted in some quarters, in order to create room for improved focus for PDP delegates that would decide the choice of the Party’s flagbearer later this year at its primaries. The Zoning Formula accords each senatorial district a rare privilege of foremost leadership that comes once in 24 years if the status quo is sustained, so major stakeholders of the benefitting senatorial district must come together to ensure that only the best of the alternatives is presented to electorate to make the final choice.
Charles Enuma is a Lagos-based Political Analyst and Social Commentator