Ejaife Odebala

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South

CHIEF Ejaife Odebala, a former member of Delta State House of Assembly, contested the governorship race in the state and lost, but he is back again, turbo- charged for the battle for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, ticket ahead of 2023. In this interview, Odebala speaks on the zoning row in Delta.

How is your campaign for PDP 2023 governorship ticket going?

I have done this thing before in 2007 and I am doing it again, so I know what I am doing, the campaign so far has been interesting. It is an opportunity to interact with critical party stakeholders all over the state, which is what we are doing. We are meeting leaders all over the state and persuading them on why they have to take us as the candidate of the PDP; we are not now in the larger market for the entire state, so we are confining ourselves within the PDP and different pressure groups that have pushed us forward. In a nut shell, that is where we are at the moment.

There was a report that the Delta Central 2023, DC-23, an Urhobo governorship lobby group, had screened you and others out. Are you still in the race?

First, I am still in the race, there are so many other pressure groups in Delta canvassing for the position of Delta Central to produce the next governor.  DC- 23 is one of them. DC- 23 is not Peoples Democratic Party, though members of DC 23 are members of PDP. What DC-23 decision means is that as far as DC -23 is concerned, particular persons not accepted by them are not going to be supported by members of PDP who are in DC-23. So, if those members of PDP in DC-23 do not support me for example, you cannot say members of PDP who are not in DC-23 will not support me; you will not say members of PDP in Delta North or Delta South will not support me, they are saying members of DC 23 who are PDP members will not project Odebala for governor. But, as a seasoned politician, I know a position like that is not static, it is not cast in stone, it is written on sand and, because DC-23 is composed of worthy political actors, I cannot abandon them. My only appeal is to keep telling them to see reason why I am the best man for the job and I am appealing to them to rescind their decision in supporting any other person apart from me. The reason I am saying that is that from 1998 till today, I am the only person among the aspirants who has participated in all the conventions of the party and all activities of the party from 1999 till today. People who have not contributed, people who have not participated, people who are saying politicians are mad and irresponsible people are now coming in to say they want to be the governor of the state, and we have toiled for PDP from 1998 till today, undiluted commitment. If I abandon the race, I will be disappointing the entire members of PDP in Delta, the entire family members and the members who have been with us in the trenches till today. I am the only aspiring member of PDP who is contesting that knows members of the party in 1999 till now, so if you are coming, say you want to be a governor of Delta, for example and you just came into the trade in 2015, and there are founding members who are already grandfathers in the party, how will you know the people that started the party in 1998 till 2014 to care for them? With the experience I have as a formidable party man, I am the only person that represents the collective interest of all members of the party.

There is this speculation that DC-23 is a contrivance of some Urhobo leaders to foist one of the aspirants on Delta Central and by extension, PDP. You are still a member of DC-23 and a politician from Delta Central. Is this opinion true or false?

Again, personally, I heard the story that DC- 23 is a lobby group of a particular person to bring a certain person to govern Deltans, but I, personally, do not believe it, the reason I do not believe it is political.  I am a senior member of the family and I have not seen that trend in the whole arrangement, but that is the perception everywhere. I believe DC-23 is a political group and their actions are subject to review. I believe that even before the primary election, DC-23 is still evaluating everybody, whether you have the requisite character, temperament, and carriage to hold the position of governor of the state. Whether a person is screened out today or not, a group can still sit down and have a review of their decision, but on the issue of trying to foist another person on us, that thinking is not correct.

You are a member of Ibori political family and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is also a member of that political family. What is happening between the leaders of the family in the state?

There is nothing happening. Okowa is the governor of the state, he is a humble, respectful and astute politician. Also, our national leader, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, is a respectful and committed party man and, when I hear stories that there are issues between both of them, I just laugh because one thing I know about the governor is that he is a very grateful man, he is a very appreciative man, he is a man of history and Ibori has not offended Okowa in anyway, and Okowa has not offended James Ibori too. They appreciate the friendship they have and I believe that there is no problem between those of us who are aspiring that will be a basis of quarrel between Ibori and Okowa. They cannot quarrel because of anybody and, in the history of Nigeria, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State was brought in by a former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, they are quarrelling today; a former Senate President, Olusola Saraki, and his father quarreled, you saw how it ended, but in Delta State, the relationship is quite different and I believe that is the kind of legacy that we all aspire to see, the legacy of friendship. I also commend the governor; even though there was a little friction between himself and his predecessor, but, these days, we have seen some reconciliation between Dr. Okowa and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan; if you see the extension of  the hand of friendship to everybody and the  action of the governor in even appointing the late Charles Obuh as the Chairman of Pensions Board, Olorogun David Edevbie as Chief of Staff and Commissioner of Finance, you will know that Senator Okowa is a man who wants to build friendship. So, he will not engage in any action that will destroy a friend, especially a friend who has not offended him. In that light, I believe the two persons have a very good relationship and, at the appropriate time, they will discuss among themselves and give us a united family.

Have you told Ibori and Okowa about your ambition and if you have, what did they tell you?

I met Senator Okowa and told him of my aspiration and he told me to go ahead. He told me “Odebala, go ahead, you are a party man, you have been a party man, the issue we have in the party now is zoning, we will speak on the issue at the appropriate time”. I have also met with James Ibori and told him of my aspiration and he also believes in me and said “Odebala, go ahead”. That is why I am still in the race fully.

Talking about zoning, the agitations from various groups, the issue is more like a contest  between Urhobo and Ijaw. The Urhobo where you are from said it should be by senatorial district. Ijaw maintain it should be a free contest for all.  This was the major agenda at the last PDP caucus meeting. As an Urhobo leader and someone aspiring to be governor, do you not think the Ijaw agitation is justified?

In 2005 and 2006, I participated in the governorship race and we believe, at that time, that there should not be power shift. The Urhobo position was that there should not be power shift, which was why we aspired for the position. At that time, Ibori came up and said we should consider other senatorial districts, that there should be power shift and that was how Uduaghan emerged as governor. At that time, the entire Urhobo nation was angry with Ibori, saying he should not have let others rule, even people like us felt badly, but that contest went off and Uduaghan emerged. In 2014/15, there was also the issue of zoning and it was on senatorial basis and this governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, emerged. You could see that Uduaghan was supporting someone from Delta North until the dying minutes. What we started in 2007 was zoning by senatorial district. I believe Delta Central should produce the governor at this time, and I commend the DC-23 for their efforts in pursuing that agenda. My Ijaw brothers are also doing a good job. They are canvassing their own point. First, let it be put on record that Senator James Manager is my leader and, if not for the issue of zoning, I would be supporting him for governor, but he was a party to the decision in 2007, he was there and positions were zoned at that time. First, Ibori said power should go to another senatorial district, and whether he (Uduaghan) is his cousin or not, power went to another senatorial district. Ibori did not say “support my cousin”, he just said power should go to another senatorial district. I was in the meeting where some of these decisions were taken and we agreed though some of us were sad. People like my leader, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, are strong enough to come out and speak on the issue of zoning. James Manager, as a founding member of the party, as a leader of the party, has opportunity, but for now, there is zoning,

But Senator Manager maintained at the last caucus meeting that there was no zoning?

The caucus will decide, but I know as a fact that there is zoning, every time election comes up, people from other senatorial districts always participate against the zoning arrangement of the party. But by providence, it has always happened that the person from the chosen district always wins. What I am trying to say is that there are unwritten rules of the party, there is zoning even though it is not written, but for elder statesman, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, and Manager to Deputy Governor, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, who are saying it should be done on ethnic basis, they have their own case, they have their own justification. However, in the mind of the right- thinking PDP members all over the state, governorship should go to Delta Central.

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