A tripod and a Senate seat
The drafters of the 1999 Constitution were sensitive of the alienation and marginalisation of the minority tribes that are part of the federation, which reason they enshrined the principle of federal character in the constitution.
Section 14, subsections 3 and 4 require that governments at all levels to observe and apply this principle. Subsection 4 states that “the composition of the government of a state, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the federation.”
Delta State, a mini-Nigeria with its various tribes and tongues, has faithfully adapted this principle at various levels of governance, including the rotation of the governorship, which has gone full circle among the three senatorial zones. But a peculiar problem looms large in the Delta South Senatorial zone comprising Isoko, Itsekiri and Ijaw nationalities.
The return of democracy in 1999 saw the alignment of forces. In particular, the leaders of the Delta South Senatorial district met on the contentious senatorial seat. The leaders drawn from Isoko, Itsekiri and Ijaw mutually agreed to rotate the seat among themselves. Subsequently, Senator Stella Omu, former Whip of the Senate and an Isoko had the first shot. She was in the upper Legislative Chamber for a term, which she relinquished in the spirit of the mutual agreement, and baton handed over to Senator James Manager, an Ijaw.
The belief and expectation was that he would be there for a term and also pass the baton to an Itsekiri son or daughter. On the contrary, Manager has held on tenaciously to the seat consistently for four terms and reportedly rumoured to be interested in returning for a fifth term. But there is no doubting the fact that it is the turn of the Itsekiri to produce the zone’s next senator in 2019. This is in keeping with equity agreement, which has been sustaining the tripod arrangement subsisting in the senatorial district.
It is a fact that the Itsekiri, since 1999 has not been to the Senate. As it stands now in the current political dispensation in Delta State, the Itsekiris are just marginal players, without the senate seat. And that cannot be happening in a zone known for mutual respect for and accommodation of others. And there is a more compelling reason why the Itsekiri should take a shot at the senate seat, given that the Ijaw will retain the deputy governorship of the state.
Aside that, the peace and security of the region must be sustained, which reason immediate past Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan gave while stepping down from the senate race in 2015. He said that his dropping out of the race was necessitated by his determination to ensure that peace reigns in the state and that maintaining the peace was more important than electoral victories which are won at great human price.
He had said, “I have to offer myself as sacrifice to ensure that the political and security tension that had built up in recent times is reduced. In doing that, I am aware that a lot of my followers will be very unhappy but I want to appeal to them that I have to do this for the sake of this state.”
The role of Dr. Uduaghan in ensuring that peace and stability returns to the Niger Delta region permanently is immutable. As a major player he cannot be seen to disrupt what he sweated night and day to bring to the fore. Not even the lure of a senate seat. But then, it is imprudent to view that meekness as weakness. It is sad that at this age and time, some are already sending out veiled threats of violence on people who are genuinely asking that a longstanding mutual and benefitting agreement be upheld for the sake of justice, equity, fairness and peaceful coexistence.
Now, would it be right for the Ijaw to monopolise the seat perpetually when a leg of the Delta South tripod continuously waits in the wings? By 2019, the Ijaw would be spending 16 years in the senate. Those in the region desirous of sustainable peaceful coexistence among the three ethnic groups are of the opinion that fairness, justice and equity should take pre-eminence since it is agreed among all that zoning of political offices is good for equitable representation and service delivery.
Any way one looks at it, the Isoko and Itsekiri are marginalised in the region that before now enjoyed smooth rotation of political offices without rancour. The Isoko wants a return to the Senate as soon as possible but that remains a mirage since that is not attainable until Itsekiri has taken its rightful turn, the delayed turn. The Ijaw cannot at the same time hold on to the Senate seat and be also comfortable with their own as Deputy Governor. It makes the Delta South’s tripod faulty, the cooking pot will continually spill its content if not rectified, peacefully and reciprocally.
With 2019 looming large, it is imperative that the region’s leaders talk to themselves and appeal to the Ijaws to let go of the Senate seat. They’ve had it for 14 years going to 16. It’s only fair that Itsekiris take their turn. Now. After all, the fulcrum of the tripod of Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri are sworn neighbours with the filial spirit of live and let live.
Idama, politician and commentator, writes from Ozoro
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